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Academy of Management Journal

2010, Vol. 53, No. 3, 477512.

WERE CHANGINGOR ARE WE? UNTANGLING THE ROLE


OF PROGRESSIVE, REGRESSIVE, AND STABILITY
NARRATIVES DURING STRATEGIC
CHANGE IMPLEMENTATION
SCOTT SONENSHEIN
Rice University
Data from a Fortune 500 retailer suggest that managers tell strategically ambiguous,
interwoven narratives about how an organization changes and how it remains the
same, thereby attempting to both unfreeze and freeze the existing meanings employees
attribute to the organization. Employees embellish these narratives to make sense of
and narrate responses to change (resisting, championing, and accepting), something
patterned by time period and context. This study revises conceptualizations of managerial and employee discourse in fostering and hampering the implementation of
strategic change by broadening consideration of both the sources and the types of
meanings used to construct change.

proach to change have focused on the construction


of meanings that stand out from other organizational stories (Barry & Elmes, 1997: 433) by differentiating the future from the past. Similarly, scholars taking a sensemaking approach have focused on
how managers construct meanings for others that
lead to a preferred redefinition of organizational
reality (Gioia & Chittipeddi, 1991: 442). Practitioner models of change, such as those based on Kotters (1996) work, have also emphasized creating a
sense of urgency about shattering outdated or misaligned meanings tied to an organizations status
quo, followed by the development and dissemination of new meanings expressed in a vision for
change.
One common characteristic of many theoretical
and practitioner models of change is that they explicitly or implicitly endorse Lewins (1951) basic
three-stage theory of change. The three stages are
unfreezing an existing state, moving to a new,
desirable state, and then refreezing that new state
(Elrod & Tippett, 2002; Hendry, 1996; Marshak,
1993). As Dawson noted, The predominant models on the management of change remain rooted to
the orthodoxy imposed by Lewins (1951) seminal
work. Almost without exception, contemporary
management texts uncritically adopt Lewins threephase model of planned change (1994: 2f). In fact,
scholars have adopted Lewins model to explicitly
focus on meanings during change, arguing that the
change process involves managers first breaking
down employees existing meaning constructions
(unfreezing), then establishing new meanings
(moving), and finally solidifying those new meanings (refreezing) (e.g., Corley & Gioia, 2004; Fiol,

Implementing strategic change is one of the most


important undertakings of an organization. Successful implementation of strategic change can reinvigorate a business, but failure can lead to catastrophic consequences, including firm death (Hofer
& Schendel, 1978). One of the most important processes of strategic change occurs when managers
use discursive and other symbolic materials to
destroy existing meaning systems and establish
new ones in an effort to set strategic direction (Fiol,
2002; Gioia & Chittipeddi, 1991). In fact, some
scholars consider the very purpose of strategic
change to be invoking a shift in cognitions about an
organization and its environment (Bartunek, 1984).
Past change research using both narrative (e.g.,
Barry & Elmes, 1997; Brown, 1998) and sensemaking lenses (e.g., Balogun & Johnson, 2004; Gioia &
Chittipeddi, 1991; Maitlis & Sonenshein, 2010) has
supported the idea that strategic change requires a
fundamental shift in meanings. This literature has
converged on an examination of how managers
construct meanings (i.e., interpretations of an organization) and disseminate them to others in an
effort to influence those others about a new strategic direction. Scholars opting for a narrative ap-

I thank Jane Dutton, Rick Bagozzi, Debby Keller-Cohen, Linda Putnam, Kathie Sutcliffe, and Erik Dane as
well as Associate Editor Mike Pratt and the three anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback on this article. I also benefited from comments from and/or discussions with Jean Bartunek, Martha Feldman, Karen
Golden-Biddle, and Ray Sparrowe about this research. I
also thank Kim Jones Davenport for her research assistance and Tina Borja for her editorial assistance.
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2002; Isabella, 1990; Labianca, Gray, & Brass, 2000).


Although research that models change implementation as a set of meaning processes based roughly
on Lewins approach has led to important insights,
this research is limited in two key ways. First, it
studies only certain types of meanings constructed
by managers and employees. Second, it overlooks
the perspective and responses of recipients of
change (Balogun & Johnson, 2004, 2005; Bartunek,
Rousseau, Rudolph, & DePalma, 2006; Ford, Ford,
& DAmelio, 2008).
First, existing research represents an unnecessarily narrow view of the types of meanings managers
and employees construct during change by predominately focusing on positive or negative meanings of change (Armenakis, Harris, & Mossholder,
1993; Piderit, 2000). This limited focus makes common a narrative in which employees resist change
(drawing on negative meanings) and managers
struggle to overcome these resistance efforts
(through positive meanings). Dent and Goldberg
(1999) characterized this story as a universally accepted mental model but questioned its empirical
reality. Lewin proposed that resistance occurred at
the systems level in organizations (manifesting in,
for instance, roles, attitudes, behaviors, norms, and
other factors). Yet organizational scholars have
since largely viewed resistance more narrowly as
occurring at the psychological level (Dent & Goldberg, 1999), thereby often implicating employees
constructions of change (the meanings they give to
change) as the cause of resistance (Ford et al.,
2008). As a result, scholars have developed theories
about how managers overcome employee resistance by unfreezing employees existing (negative)
constructed meanings and then changing them
(e.g., Corley & Gioia, 2004; Fiol, 2002; Isabella,
1990; Labianca et al., 2000). For example, Isabellas
(1990) model draws from Lewins work to explain
how top managers unfreeze employees existing
constructions and alert them that new ones need to
be adopted. Fiol adopted Lewins three-stage model
to identity change, theorizing that managers help
employees destroy old meanings and replace them
with a new desired future state (2002: 660). Labianca et al. adopted Lewins model to argue that
change involves disconfirming old schemata and
then new schema generation (2000: 238). At a
theoretical level, this argument focuses researchers
on employees as obstacles to change as opposed to
recognizing that employees may also maintain
meanings consistent with promoting change (e.g.,
Kelman, 2005). At a practical level, the managersovercome-employee-resistance tale may contribute to the failure of change initiatives because it
encourages managers to direct energy toward the

June

wrong places (purported employee constructions


that lead to resistance) using the wrong mental
models (unfreeze-move-refreeze) (Dent & Goldberg,
1999). In this study, I took an inductive approach
allowing for a variety of meanings (beyond positive and negative) to play a role in change. This
approach helps supplement the popular managersovercome-employee-resistance story that has plagued
theory development and practice (Dent & Goldberg,
1999; Ford et al., 2008) by examining whether the
meanings of change employees generate and maintain may not always hinder, but may actually help,
change implementation.
Second, existing research overlooks the dynamic
interplay between managers and employees
meaning constructions. Instead, in examining discursive processes that provide linguistic, cognitive,
and symbolic resources for strategic change (Jarzabkowski, 2005), scholars have taken a managerial
perspective (Ford et al., 2008). For example, building on process-based approaches to change (e.g.,
Burgelman, 1983), researchers have addressed how
managers engage in activities that constitute doing strategy work, such as constructing and disseminating meanings of change to employees (Bartunek, Krim, Necochea, & Humphries, 1999; Gioia
& Chittipeddi, 1991; Rouleau, 2005). Yet scholars
have largely overlooked employees subsequent reinterpretations of these meanings (Bartunek et al.,
2006). Buchanan and Dawson (2007) criticized
most work on change as single-voiced narratives
that overlook its complex, political, and multiauthored nature. For scholars who theorize about
change as a linguistic accomplishment that
emerges from competing narratives (e.g., Brown &
Humphreys, 2003; Heracleous & Barrett, 2001), it
becomes essential to capture narratives beyond
those coming from politically dominant groups
(e.g., managers) (Dawson & Buchanan, 2005). Although less politically dominant groups lack formal power, they nonetheless shape change implementation through their alteration of its meaning.
By accounting for the construction of meanings by
both managers and employees, scholars can understand a wider breadth of meanings during change,
as well as how meanings change over time and
across organizational levels in ways that impact
how strategic change gets implemented. Moreover,
because meanings shape both social realities and
actors subsequent reactions to such realities
(Hardy, Palmer, & Phillips, 2000), a more dynamic
understanding of meaning construction may improve understanding of key employee responses
important for change implementation. This may
help practicing managers improve what frequently
become unsuccessful change implementation at-

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Sonenshein

tempts (Beer, Eisenstat, & Spector, 1990; Kotter,


1996).
By broadening investigation of the types of meanings actors construct during strategic change to extend beyond simply positive and negative, and by
accounting for a wider range of actors constructing
meaning (managers and employees), I reexamine
critical assumptions in change implementation research. Scholars have found that managers exert
downward influence on the meanings employees
attribute to change through the unfreezing-movingrefreezing of negative meanings, which are replaced with more positive ones (e.g., George &
Jones, 2001; Labianca et al., 2000), yet it is less clear
what theoretical process explains how employees
respond to these efforts, how they might reconstruct these meanings of change, and how this reconstruction might impact their responses when
implementing change. Addressing these key questions affords the opportunity to reconsider and expand adoptions of Lewins model of change that are
based on meaning construction.
To develop these insights, I conducted a field
study at a Fortune 500 retailer implementing strategic change. I began with the broad research question of how managers and employees meaning
constructions differ, and how these differences
matter for how strategic change gets implemented.
Drawing from narrative (Barry & Elmes, 1997;
Brown, 1998; Brown & Humphreys, 2003; Weick &
Quinn, 1999) and sensemaking (Gioia & Chittipeddi, 1991) approaches to change, I examined relationships between the broader sources of meanings (managers and employees) and broader
dimensions of meanings (derived inductively) used
to construct change. As I describe below, the research affirmed key elements of existing views of
change, but also led to some unexpected findings.
Although my initial focus was to spotlight the frequently underestimated role of employees during
change, my data revealed that researchers current
conceptualizations of managerial discourses during
change were also incomplete. Prior research has
emphasized that managers establish new meanings
about an organization for employees by unfreezing
and then altering their meaning constructions (Labianca et al., 2000). Indeed, I found that managers
do construct these new meanings (through what I
call progressive narratives). Unexpectedly, I also
found that at the same time managers were establishing new meanings, they were simultaneously
attempting to preserve existing organizational
meanings (through what I call stability narratives). At this point, my attention shifted to explaining how and why managers simultaneously
told progressive and stability narratives and to the

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interwoven narratives effect on employees meaning constructions and implementation of change.


As such, the study elaborates theory (Lee, Mitchell,
& Sablynski, 1999) of meaning construction during
strategic change by addressing not only the broader
sources of meanings, but also the broader types of
meanings. Ultimately, this elaboration affirms,
challenges, and advances views of change based on
Lewins model.
A NARRATIVE AND SENSEMAKING LENS
Two related lenses are especially useful for examining meaning constructions during change. A
narrative lens focuses on discourse, often containing a sequential structure, that gives meaning to
events (Pentland, 1999). This sequential structure
captures how organization members understand
events in relationship to other events over time
(Gergen & Gergen, 1997) and in specific contexts
(Gergen, Gergen, & Barrett, 2004).1 Narratives exist
at both the individual and collective levels. As I
describe in the Methods section, my primary focus
in this study was composite narratives, which
involve researchers construction of an event on the
basis of a group of individuals narratives about
that same event (e.g., Dunford & Jones, 2000).
A sensemaking lens is closely related to a narrative
one. For Weick (1995), sensemaking involves individuals engaging in retrospective and prospective
thinking in order to construct an interpretation of
reality. Sensegiving is a related process by which
individuals attempt to influence the sensemaking of
others (Gioia & Chittipeddi, 1991; Maitlis & Lawrence, 2007). Both sensemaking and sensegiving are
closely related to narratives. In fact, many scholars
have treated sensemaking/sensegiving as interchangeable with constructing narratives (Currie &
Brown, 2003; Dunford & Jones, 2000; Gabriel, 2004).
Scholars have argued that narratives are a tool that
actors use to make sense of events (Bruner, 1990;
Robichaud, Girous, & Taylor, 2004) and also that narratives capture the outcome of collective sensemaking (Brown, 1998). Furthermore, narratives can be
1

Scholars have debated about differences among narratives, stories, sagas, legends, and myths. Boje defined
stories as oral or written performance involving two or
more people interpreting past or anticipated experience
(1991: 111). Cunliffe, Luhman, and Boje (2004) noted that
narrative and story are often used interchangeably,
proposing the distinction that stories usually have coherent plot lines whereas narratives do not. But I followed
Pentland (1999) in grouping all of these forms under the
heading of narrative, as these nuanced differences are
not important for my theory here.

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used to influence others, which is an example of


sensegiving. Accordingly, I view a narrative as a discursive construction that actors use as a tool to shape
their own understanding (sensemaking), as a tool to
influence others understandings (sensegiving), and
as an outcome of the collective construction of meaning (Brown, 1998; Brown & Humphreys, 2003).
A narrative lens, informed by sensemaking/sensegiving, is useful for addressing my research question
of how managers and employees meaning constructions differ, and how these differences matter during
change implementation. First, narratives allow for
multiple perspectives on change (Buchanan & Dawson, 2007) and broad types of meanings, both of
which can play a vital role in change (Heracleous &
Barrett, 2001). Second, narratives are inherently a
temporal construction (Cunliffe, Luhman, & Boje,
2004), and change is inherently a temporal phenomenon (Van de Ven & Poole, 1995). Third, when faced
with a major interruption such as a strategic organizational change, individuals construct meanings both
to enable their own understanding (Brown & Humphreys, 2003) and to influence that of others (Gioia &
Chittipeddi, 1991). Capturing these understandings
informs theory about how people use narratives to
understand and influence change.
METHODS
In a single-site case study, I used narrative analysis
(Riessman, 1993) and content analysis (Berelson,
1952) as two related approaches to examining the
discourses individuals used to construct meaning
(Gephart, 1993; Pentland, 1999). Narrative analysis
focuses on the rich use of discourse embedded in
context (Pentland, 1999), particularly emphasizing
how protagonists interpret experiences (Bruner,
1990). Content analysis is a technique for understanding the factors that explain differences in interpretations (Langley, 1999). I first describe the case and
then detail the data and analysis. By providing a rich
description of the case in which meanings were produced, I provide more plausible and credible interpretations of the data (Hansen, 2006) and address
calls to develop case studies that combine a narrative
approach with a deeper study of organizational context (Buchanan & Dawson, 2007).
Case Overview and Selection
This study took place at Retail, Inc.,2 which was,
at the time of the study, a Fortune 500 entertain-

All names of individuals and organizations are


pseudonyms.

June

ment and leisure products retailer with annual


sales of $4 billion and 35,000 employees. The company operated over 1,000 stores, primarily in the
United States, and consisted of two divisions, each
representing a different retail model: MallCo,
which ran smaller, mall-based stores, and BigBoxCo, which ran larger, freestanding stores. This
research examines the implementation of Project
Convert, in which some MallCo stores were transformed into BigBoxCo Light stores. Table 1 gives a
timeline of the change.
Case selection. Because extensive data were required to conduct this study, and data collection at
multiple sites was not feasible, I used a single site.
In selecting it, I was guided by theoretical sampling
(Eisenhardt, 1989; Glaser & Strauss, 1967). At the
industry level, retail is a part of the service economy that represents a growing proportion of the
world economy (Zeithaml, Bitner, & Gremler,
2006). I selected Retail, Inc., as a setting in the retail
industry because it is comprised of many geographically dispersed units (i.e., stores), which makes
extensive communication between stores and
headquarters necessary, a characteristic that in turn
lends itself well to the study of discourse within an
organization. This setting provided an extreme
case in which narratives were more likely to be
visible than in other contexts. I was also provided
with an unusual degree of access to Retail, Inc., via
a personal contact. This degree of access led to
building an information-rich case that helps manifest the phenomenon of change narratives in a detailed but not unrealistic way (Miles & Huberman,
1994). I selected Project Convert as a context within
Retail, Inc., because it was a typical case (Miles &
Huberman, 1994): it represented a type of change
other retailers and organizations outside the retail
industry perform frequently (e.g., integrating divisions, mergers, etc.). Also, most retailers and many
large companies (e.g., multidivisionals) have centralized headquarters with dispersed units of employees, so their structures, and possibly some of
the challenges they face in implementing change,
resemble those at the focal firm. Retail, Inc. has
senior/corporate managers who work at headquarters and are responsible for formulating and disseminating strategy to stores. Field managers and
directors, considered members of management, are
located throughout the country and are responsible
for overseeing the operations of large clusters of
stores. Their responsibilities include customizing
strategies for their regions as well as disseminating
instructions to stores. Both senior/corporate managers and field managers/directors issue directives
about change to employeesthe store managers

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TABLE 1
Timeline and Milestones for Project Convert
Approximate Time

Milestone

Description

Significance of Milestone

April 2002

Retail, Inc., hires strategy


consulting company.

Strategy consultants hired to


rejuvenate MallCo
division. MallCo stores are
not meeting customer
demands and have
performance variability.

Started first discussions about how to turn


around the MallCo division. Helped get
senior managers attention about
performance declines at MallCo. Created
urgency that strategic changes needed in
MallCo division.

Most of 2003

Redesign Initiative starts.

New interior architecture of


store designed, including
internal architecture (store
layout and color schemes)
and product placement.

Store remodels would be a capital


expenditure in the MallCo division,
something which had not happened for
the past twenty years. All stores in the
MallCo chain informed they would
receive some improvements/resources.

September 2003
January 2004

Marketing research firm


assesses impressions of
MallCo brand.

Set of possible names for


MallCo brand developed
and risks of changing
name evaluated.

MallCo brand found to be old and


inferior to BigBoxCo brand. Several
alternative names for MallCo tested, and
Retail, Inc. decides to test the
BigBoxCo Light name in several
stores.

March 2004

Project Convert officially


created.

Projects main changes


involve a rebrand and
remodel of stores as well
as operational and
merchandising changes.

Two separate projects merged into one,


called Project Convert. More resources
are allocated per store, but fewer stores
will participate.

June 2004

Test of concept (phase I).

Seventeen stores are


converted in four
geographic areas.

Initial stores selected based on geographic


isolation. Phase I considered successful.

SeptemberDecember
2004

Test of concept (phase II).

Twenty additional stores are


converted in three
geographic areas.

Stores selected to represent competitive


and customer makeup of other Retail,
Inc. markets. Phase II also considered a
success.

AugustNovember
2005

Main implementation of
Project ConvertPeriod 1.

First set of nontest stores


participate in project.
Store selection based on
several criteria, including
performance potential and
subjective ratings by
corporate managers.

Project Convert is now a full-blown


strategy that is being implemented.

November 2005
January 2006

Main implementation of
Project ConvertPeriod 2.

Second set of nontest stores


participate in project.
Store selection based on
several criteria, including
performance potential and
subjective ratings by
corporate managers.

Project Convert remains a full-blown


strategy that is being implemented, with
managers pressing to complete
conversions by the end of the year.

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and retail clerks responsible for implementing and


adopting storewide change.3
Case overview. In the early 1990s, MallCo was
the cash cow of Retail, Inc., bringing in steady
profits that allowed the company to fund its growth
at BigBoxCo, which had a smaller presence than
MallCo and required significant capital expenditures to open a new store. As BigBoxCo stores
started to achieve steady profits in the mid 1990s,
sales at the MallCo division started to flounder. The
outdatedness of MallCos stores, combined with
increased competition from bigger stores belonging
to other retailers and the internet, led to a multiyear
downward spiral of performance. Retail, Inc., responded by closing underperforming MallCo
stores, but with little investment being put into the
MallCo division, those stores that sustained operations continued to have performance declines.
In 2003, Retail, Inc. charged an architectural design firm with developing the MallCo store of the
future. The project, called the Redesign Initiative, involved updating the interior design (with
new paint colors, for example) and changing the
layout of the stores products. Managers reasoned
that updating these interiors would improve sales.
Although this project involved only minor modifications, MallCo store employees welcomed the Redesign Initiative because it provided some sorely
needed resources for renovating stores, many of
which had not seen any major investment for two
decades.
While the store operations department at Retail,
Inc.s headquarters worked on the Redesign Initiative, the marketing department assessed the viability of the MallCo brand. Managers reasoned that a
brand that had not seen updates for years might be
in need of its own makeover. A marketing consultant recommended that the firm consolidate its
brands by investing in one overarching brand for
both divisions. The consultants research further
concluded that the BigBoxCo brand was stronger
than MallCos and that there would be minimal risk
in eliminating the MallCo name and subsuming the
brand under the BigBoxCo name as BigBoxCo
Light.
In 2004, the Redesign Initiative of the operations
3
Although stores had managers, I treated them as employees because they were much closer to the retail
clerks in status, power, and work context than to the
corporate or field managers. There was a hierarchy
whereby the clerks reported to the store managers, yet the
two were both, like Bartunek et al.s (2006) employees,
on the receiving end of change, and so unlike the
managers typically studied as sources of change (e.g.,
Burgelman, 1983; Gioia & Chittipeddi, 1991).

June

department combined with the marketing departments plans for a branding change as one of the
companys six most important strategic projects;
Project Convert was born. Retail, Inc. executives
assigned a full-time Project Convert project manager in February 2004 and pushed to test the concept by the early summer. According to the strategy, the company would transform the entire chain
of MallCo stores to BigBoxCo Lights, with the new
name, remodeling, and new merchandising strategies. Unlike the previous Redesign Initiative,
Project Convert would include extensive renovations, enhanced product selection, and updated
marketing and operations strategies.
After a phase I test in June 2004, managers
developed a more formal business plan that contained financial projections of how the converted
stores would perform as well as cost estimates for
the changes. According to the business plan,
Project Convert had three main objectives (doc010).4 First, the project would create greater consumer appeal, partly through the consolidated
name, leading to higher brand awareness. Second,
the project would improve marketing and operational efficiencies by creating uniformity among
stores in merchandising and operations. Third, the
project would create additional sales through the
acquisition of new customers. A phase II test was
launched shortly after the business plan was created. After deeming phase II a success, Retail, Inc.,
initiated a more extensive implementation of the
strategy.
Sources of Data
Unlike most research on change, which only uses
retrospective data (Van de Ven, 1992), this study
includes both retrospective and real-time data. In
total, I spent 15 months collecting data during the
testing and implementation of the strategy, and after the project was no longer a strategic priority. I
used five data sources: interviews, documents, archival records, observations, and surveys.
Interviews. I conducted 42 with retail clerks and
store managers (collectively referred to as employees) and senior/corporate and field managers (collectively referred to as managers) from November
2004 to March 2006. Of the total number of interviews, 67 percent were with managers, and 33 percent were with employees spread across the East

I refer to the various types of data using the following


abbreviations: int-(#) refers to an interview and its
assigned number; sur-(#) refers to an employee survey;
and doc-(#) is a management document.

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Coast, Central, and West Coast regions. Of the interviewees, 64 percent were with females, and 36
percent were with males. Appendix A lists the interview protocols. Individuals in a range of departments, levels, and geographic locations were interviewed, both during and after the change was
implemented, a feature that mitigates retrospective
biases (Eisenhardt & Graebner, 2007).
For the employees, I generated a list of stores to
sample that had one of the following change profiles: (1) stores that had completed implementation
of the change, (2) stores soon to be implementing
the change, and (3) stores with no announced plans
to implement the change. Stores were selected to
accommodate both geographic diversity and a reasonable travel schedule. An informant provided me
with contact information for store managers, whom
I called to schedule interviews. Store managers
made staff available for my visit, and I approached
each staff member in private to request an interview. All but one employee agreed to an interview.
For managers, I used a snowball technique to identify all key managers at headquarters responsible
for change and key field management (Miles & Huberman, 1994). I met with some informants multiple times. Although use of snowball sampling runs
the risk of limiting informants to specific networks,
I mitigated this risk by starting with informants in
all key departments involved in the change. Interviews averaged around 40 minutes and were usually recorded and transcribed. When recording was
not possible, I took extensive notes.
Documents. I collected 115 documents, including primarily internal ones (strategy plans, directives, and updates sent to stores) and public documents (press releases, articles, and web pages).
Documents provide a running history of how strategies develop and change over time (Pondy, 1983).
The internal documents were obtained from key
informants, and the publicly available documents,
from electronic databases such as Factiva. For the
analysis, I relied primarily on core change documents, which are documents that key informants
(and myself as field worker) viewed as most central
to the change, such as those sent to stores or used in
strategy sessions or company updates.
Archival records. These included ongoing project
updates and financial reports. I relied on techniques similar to those used to obtain the documents but also obtained continuous updates about
the change by being part of Retail, Inc.s e-mail
distribution list.
Observations. I observed eight hours of meetings
in two cities (Central and East Coast regions) in
which managers met with employees to discuss the
change.

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Surveys. I attempted to reach all 90 of the converting MallCo stores between May 2005 and January 2006 to solicit participation in a paper survey
via company mail. Employees at 50 percent of the
stores responded to my inquiry, and 159 out of a
possible 414 surveys were returned from these
stores (38.4%). I also attempted to reach the employees of 24 randomly generated nonconverting
stores. Of these, 50 percent furnished respondents,
and I received 51 out of 93 possible (54.8%)
responses.5 Respondents were store managers
(20.9%), assistant store managers (18.4%), clerks
(27.0%), and part-time clerks (33.7%). Seventy-two
percent of respondents were female, and 28 percent
were male. For the analysis, I relied on open-ended
questions asking about the meaning of the change
(see Appendix A); other questions from the survey
were collected for another study. Responses to the
survey were anonymous and were returned and
tracked via a random identifier accessible only to
me. Pretesting suggested the survey took about 30
minutes to finish.
Data Analysis
Construction of narratives. I used individuals
discourse (managers or employees) to create composite narratives of group constructions of the
change (Currie & Brown, 2003; Dunford & Jones,
2000; Eisenberg, Murphy, & Andrews, 1998). Composite narratives are constructed by a researcher
and based on individuals discourse (Currie &
Brown, 2003). These narratives are useful for single
cases with extensive data since they summarize
collective constructions of meanings (Langley,
1999; Plowman, Baker, Beck, Kulkarni, Solanski, &
Travis, 2007). Although narratives are sometimes
more fully elaborated by one person or piece of
discourse, most narratives are fragments of stories,
bits and pieces told here and there, to varying audiences (Boje, 2001: 5). I captured these fragments
in individuals discourses and transformed them
into composite narratives.
To construct the composite narratives, I devised
a timeline to identify the sequential structure of the
change and better understand the case context (see
Table 1) (Langley, 1999). I next read the data,
grouped into managers and employees segments,
to develop inductive codes based on informants
discourse. I used memos to refine and reflect on

One possible reason for converting stores lower response rate is that employees at these stores were busier
because of the conversion and therefore had less time to
complete optional projects.

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these emerging codes (Miles & Huberman, 1994),


with the goal of creating a more abstract classification of the data. At this point I started recognizing
a key pattern in both managers and employees
discourse: they constructed the change as either
something new and significant, or as something
insignificant and consistent with the status quo. I
reexamined the data set again in this light, finding
several different applications for the wide lens of
construction as significant/insignificant. Remaining open to disconfirming evidence (Miles & Huberman, 1994), I reanalyzed the data to elaborate on
the emerging themes and their variants. I went
through several refinements of the narratives presented here, constantly moving between the emerging composite narrative and the raw data, to ensure
I was creating a credible narrative.
Analysis of meanings over time and across contexts. Like the analyses in most qualitative projects,
mine was iterative (Miles & Huberman, 1994). Narrative analysis affords an opportunity to examine
managerial and employee meanings embedded in a
rich context by such means as examining large
fragments of discourse; content analysis provides
an opportunity to hone in on specific meanings in
those narratives to explain patterns (Langley,
1999). More specifically, I sought to understand
more deeply how the meanings managers and employees constructed had evolved, including such
elements as how their discourse shifted over the
period the change was implemented and, for employees, how it differed by local contexts (i.e.,
stores).
I inductively derived codes about meanings from
the narrative analysis, focusing on emergent core
themes. A research assistant classified the raw data
on these dimensions. Afterward, I reviewed her
codes and resolved the handful of differences we
had through discussion. For managers, the analysis
used core change documents and interviews and
showed the progression of meanings over time in a
table. The core change documents contained constructions of the change that were sent to employees and disseminated through the formal communication channels at Retail, Inc. The managerial
interviews provided a means of assessing variations in meanings among managers, as well as a
way to examine how some meanings may have
changed over time for some managers (those interviewed multiple times). For employees, the analysis used open-ended questions from the survey.
This survey captured the meanings employees attributed to the change in a way that contained more
variation around implementation date (for time period) and store (for local context) than the interview
data. It was important to examine this variance as

June

possibly accounting for differences in meanings


among the narratives. Given the large number of
cases, I provide percentages of mentions (Dutton &
Dukerich, 1991) and illustrations of the types of
meaning constructions.
Analysis of employees responses. To address
the last part of my research question, concerning
how differences between employees and managers meaning constructions matter for change implementation, I developed an inductive classification of employees narrated change responses. I
read employee interviews and surveys with the
goal of locating different patterns of responses
(Heracleous & Barrett, 2001). I found that employees narrated three types of responses. I then returned to the data to search for patterns in these
responses and how employees constructed the
change, building from the content analysis described above.6
FINDINGS
Managers Narratives of the Change
In this section, I tell two composite narratives to
illustrate the major differences in meanings constructed by the managers studied here. On the one
hand, the managers constructed Project Convert as
a significant change that would rejuvenate MallCo;
they constructed new meanings for what a
postimplementation MallCo store would be. On the
other hand, the managers constructed Project Convert as insignificant, holding on to meanings that
preserved basic understandings of MallCo.
Project Convert is a significant change that will
rejuvenate MallCo. Managers recognized that
MallCo was in trouble when they commissioned
research to assess the divisions declining performance. Key branding and marketing research used
6
Although as author I inevitably made selections that
shaped the research, thereby providing another construction of reality and not a transmission of it (Golden-Biddle
& Locke, 2007), work by Lincoln and Guba (1985) suggested that my interpretations of the data are credible for
several reasons. First, I used a prolonged engagement of
15 months with my research site. Second, I had the
support of the companys management. I provided summaries of emerging findings to a key informant, usually
monthly. I also held a three-hour feedback session with a
broader set of managers, in which I made suggestions for
improvements in future change efforts. I used both types
of feedback for member checking and found that informants agreed with my main findings. Third, I used triangulation by collecting multiple types of data from multiple sources. Fourth, I used peer debriefing to bounce
ideas off of outsiders to get their perspectives on the data.

2010

Sonenshein

negative adjectives, such as old (int-31). As one


senior manager said, MallCo solicited [sic] responses like Blue Haired Lady and Oldsmobile
when people were asked what they think of
MallCo (int-32). These negative depictions of the
MallCo brand were in contrast to the positive assessments of the BigBoxCo brand, which was constructed as a more contemporary brand [that] provided [an] opportunity to . . . invigorate and update
the mall brand (int-32). Assumptions about the
MallCo brand were affirmed by manager statements
about the internal state of MallCo stores. As one
manager noted, A number of these stores havent
been touched in many, many, many years . . . to get
basically a major remodel, its a big deal (int-7b).
The recognition that the MallCo brand was in
need of improvement, combined with the belief
that the BigBoxCo brand was strong, led managers
to construct Project Convert as the creation of a
mini-BigBoxCo one that had the look and
feel of a BigBoxCo store, and the BigBoxCo name,
operations, and merchandise. Managers wanted
MallCo to be run similarly to BigBoxCo stores
through an updated product assortment and a pricing strategy aligned with BigBoxCo: Our intention
is to align the majority of prices across all BigBoxCo
stores (doc-021; doc-031). Managers presented
these changes to employees as a major strategic
initiative. In a memo to all employees, senior managers wrote, One of Retail, Inc.s Big Six strategic
initiatives for 2005 is to convert selected MallCo
locations to BigBoxCo Lights (doc-059; emphasis
added). As the Project Convert project manager
noted, Were definitely going to be moving forward and MallCo will go away eventually (int-5c).
Store employees were instructed to let customers
know about how the stores changing strategic positioning would benefit them. Managers instructed
employees to tell customers they will now benefit
from higher discounts . . . and our expanded inventory of [product lines] (doc-031). Managers in the
MallCo division recognized the equalization of
power that came from the strategic change. As one
manager said, [The change means] were all pretty
much at equal footing. I was hired when MallCo
stores were pretty much considered in company
documents as the cash cow of the company. And
gosh, you felt bad being milked. Now were actually
getting to share something that weve been contributing to for so long (int-17).
Another manifestation of the significance of the
change came from the use of the words old and
new to describe it. Managers used the referent
old for MallCo and new for BigBoxCo Light in
leading discussions with employees:

485

In what ways, if any, do you think the old MallCo is


better than the future BigBoxCo Light?; In what
ways, if any do you think the future BigBoxCo Light
is better than the old MallCo?; What, if anything, do
you think your old MallCo customers will like about
the new BigBoxCo Light?; What, if anything, do you
think your old MallCo customers will dislike about
the new BigBoxCo Light?; In what specific ways, if
any, do you think BigBoxCo is better than the old
MallCo?; In what specific ways, if any, do you think
the old MallCo was better than BigBoxCo? (doc-055)

Project Convert is just a name change and is


insignificant. Although managers had pitched
Project Convert as a major change involving updated operations, merchandising, and marketing, I
found managerial discourse also minimized the nature of the change. Managers wrote prior to the
major rollout of the project that different promotional offerings resonate with the mall shopper as
opposed to the big box superstore shopper. . . .
MallCo and BigBoxCo Light are our mall format
stores, and customer expectations of the experience
differ from superstore visits (doc-041). This quote
illustrates how managers constructed BigBoxCo
Light as not involving a major promotional repositioning; BigBoxCo Light and MallCo were going to
be operated similarly, as mall format stores. Additionally, instead of focusing on major strategy
changes, managers emphasized the name change
and remodeling aspects of the project. A report
updating executives on the project noted that the
main goal for store plans for 2005 stores [is to] give
them a stronger BigBoxCo look & feel, which
included remodels and new logos that emphasized the BigBoxCo affiliation (doc-001). These
changes were mostly constructed as cosmetic. In
fact, internally, managers stopped using brand as a
demarcation device (MallCo vs. BigBoxCo/BigBoxCo Light) and instead introduced language to
separate formats: superstore (large, freestanding
BigBoxCos) and specialty (the smaller, mallbased MallCo and BigBoxCo Light). In a memo to
all Retail, Inc. members, a senior manager stated,
When we need to differentiate between formats in
writing, we are using Retail, Inc. Superstores and
Retail, Inc. Specialty (doc-118). Consequently,
managers minimized the change by labeling BigBoxCo Light as specialty (with MallCo) and not
superstore (BigBoxCo). This was in contrast to the
first narrative, which constructed BigBoxCo Lights
as mini-BigBoxCos and grouped stores on the basis
of brand, not format.
Another manifestation of how managers constructed Project Convert as insignificant came from
descriptions of the imposition of the changes on
employees. Managers minimized any disruption as

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Academy of Management Journal

a result of the change and viewed the change as


simply about altering the name of the store. As one
senior executive put it:
I would not foresee that you need massive training
effort to figure out [how] you take great [employees]
in the MallCo environment and make them great
[employees] in the BigBoxCo Light environment,
which is part of why . . . I dont believe there was
any huge explicit effort to look at what you need to
do with staff because we are renaming it to BigBoxCo Light. Its just . . . the same process they have
done for decades on how do you evaluate whether
somebody is any good at their job. (int-32)

Langley (1999) noted that narrative analysis often


sparks additional questions, and I returned to the
data to make sense of why there were two very
different composite narratives about the change.
Prior theory might suggest that the different managerial composite narratives could have arisen from
managers shifting interpretations of change over
time (Isabella, 1990). This would explain the two
patterns of discourse as a consequence of managers
altering constructions of the change as it was implemented. Another possibility was that the differences in discourse signified disagreement among
managers about the meanings of the change (Donnellon, Gray, & Bougon, 1986; Kuhn & Corman,
2003). As such, each narrative may have represented a subgroup that constructed the change differently from other subgroups. I examined these
possibilities using content analysis (described in
the Methods section).
The content analysis followed from what
emerged in the narrative analysis and was based on
the key difference in meanings emerging from the
narrative analysis: construction of the change as
significant or as insignificant. I label the first significant constructions and the second, insignificant constructions. Significant constructions focused on a shift in strategic direction, challenges to
existing meanings such as identities, or substantial
new practices, whereas insignificant constructions
focused on how the change did not dramatically
alter the organization or was minor or cosmetic.
Table 2 (interviews with managers) and Table 3
(managerial documents) summarize the analyses of
managers narratives, grouping them into significant and insignificant constructions. The tables
show that all but one managers discourse contained constructions of the change as both significant and insignificant, as did most of the core
change documents. Although interviewees and
documents varied somewhat in the degree of text
coded as significant versus insignificant, most of
the data contained both themes. Both themes also

June

remained constant for managers interviewed multiple times as well as in core change documents.
This suggests that managers were not changing
meanings over time, nor did they radically disagree
among themselves about whether Project Convert
was significant or insignificant. Rather, managers
were simultaneously constructing two contrasting
meanings.
To unpack the simultaneous construction of the
change as significant and insignificant, I present
illustrative instances of the use of both themes.
Consider the following e-mail, sent to both employees and customers, constructing BigBoxCo Light as
a familiar friend while simultaneously emphasizing its novelty. The e-mail first states that BigBoxCo
Light is a familiar friend, but the word new appears six times:
Were unveiling a new look for a familiar friend.
Were excited to announce that our MallCo store in
[location] is becoming BigBoxCo Lighta new store
with a vibrant new atmosphere and an extraordinary
shopping experience. Were taking the best of
MallCo and introducing many of the exceptional
aspects of our sister store, BigBoxCo, to create BigBoxCo Light. Youll continue to find a great selection of [products], convenient shopping, and the
same commitment to service by the friendly staff
youve come to know. At the new BigBoxCo Light,
youll also find a bigger discount . . . an expanded
assortment, and selected BigBoxCo special offers
and services. We are eager to introduce you to
BigBoxCo Light. . . . Its a new store and a new
experience. (doc-007)

On the one hand, the e-mail positions BigBoxCo


Light as remaining the same, with managers noting
that customers will continue to enjoy great selection, convenient shopping, and commitment to service. But the e-mail also presents the change as
leading to a more positive store experience, with a
bigger discount, expanded product assortment, and
special offersthat a new store and new experience are on the way.
The dual constructions of familiarity and novelty
were also presented to employees at meetings,
where managers told them that simply changing
name, association and color made customers more
satisfied (meeting, 5/3/05). Managers told anecdotes of customers who said the store was actually better, but literally only the sign changed
(meeting, 6/15/2005). Managers relayed these anecdotes to employees to illustrate that BigBoxCo
Light had not changed or improved, yet somehow
customers were responding to a changed (and improved) store.
Managers also constructed the change as simultaneously significant and insignificant during

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487

TABLE 2
Analysis of Manager Interviews along the Significance/Insignificance Dimensiona
Illustrative Example
Interview
Number

Title

Date

Project Convert Is Significant

Project Convert Is Insignificant

Field director

3/23/05

We as the MallCo chain have gone through a


period of sales decreases . . . we had to do
something in order to change that trend.
And part of changing that trend was
leveraging the BigBoxCo name, refreshing
the stores . . . Attracting that mall
customer that might be in there getting
them to walk into our BigBoxCo Light
store just as they would walk into a
BigBoxCo store, but not necessarily a
MallCo store.

Its basically the same other than the paint and


some of the fixtures and the sign out front.

2a

Field manager

3/23/05

Its (sighs) the concept is a wonderful


concept and I think its a new identity to
our brand to the customer and I think
theyre really identifying to that. Last
week we were up in 8% [sales increase].
But were running a 5% increase over last
year. So a huge difference . . . we have a
sense of pride about this now and its new
and exciting for customers.

It really hasnt changed other than the type


the sign thats on the front, the color of the
walls, four different colors, as funny as that
seems. And now we have some leather
seating with little tables. But the internal
structure (speaks in a hushed voice) is
basically all theits basically all the same.

5a

Project Convert
project
manager

4/18/05

MallCo was facing declining in comp sales


for five plus years . . . we were looking at
a way to turn around [MallCo] and at the
same time leverage our BigBoxCo brand
thats been doing very well . . . that was a
major . . . shift in direction for 2005.

So whats going to happen to your store and as


far as the look and feel. What is the
construction schedule going to look like?
What preparations do you need to make?

5b

5/13/05

It was just a matter of . . . getting [the store] on [Asked how employees jobs are different after
board with [Project Convert] . . . There was a
conversion] After they become BigBoxCo
lot of changes. . . . [employees] dont know
Light, they should be a [retail clerk] as
what BigBoxCo is in that market because
usual . . . theres not anything specifically as
theyre not familiar with the BigBoxCo
far as like what it means for their job.
name brand because they are so isolated.

5c

8/26/05

Bringing the two different divisions


together . . . Thats been probably the most
beneficial piece just because for so long
theyve been these parallel tracks and
havent had much interaction with each
other. And so now bringing them in the
same room, now that they share the same
brand name andtalking about and
creating that synergy of how they can
work together more closely instead of look
at each other as competitors.

And one of the big takeaways from this year is


that some of these stores are just so old that
with the limited scope of work that we do
for BigBoxCo Light [we need to do more].

5d

11/18/05

The difference in before and after difference


for these stores is so dramatic. . . . The
BigBoxCo brand really seems to make a
difference with this demographic base
around here. So strong mall, a huge before
and after difference, and the BigBoxCo
brand recognition . . . are kind of the key
factors [driving performance].

The main things that are BigBoxCo Light


specific as far as compliance [is] to make
sure that they have their BigBoxCo branded
materials and supplies.

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June

TABLE 2
(Continued)
Illustrative Example
Interview
Number

Title

5e

7a

3/9/06

Project Convert
communication
manager

7b

12a

Marketing manager
(former Project
Convert project
manager)

Marketing
specialist

Project Convert Is Significant

Project Convert Is Insignificant

We have a lot of [MallCos] that arent very


To me it is largely based on size. So super
profitable and its really going through this
stores twenty to twenty five thousand square
year store by store to determine the life of
foot box. Very different operating
them . . . We will put capital money into
environment, much larger staff, larger
them to re-brand them . . . the ultimate
inventory base, different systems.
goal would be a single brand.

5/18/05 If I could take the best from BigBoxCo and


put it into thea size store that we have
in the mall, this is what it would be.
These are the things I would keep these
are the nice-to-haves. These are processes
that would have to change because
currently we had two different inventory
systems, two different POS systems.
10/3/05

12b

16

Date

Promotional efforts [at BigBoxCo Light]


werent really aligned with BigBoxCo
anymore. They were kind of aligned with
MallCo . . . We had sort of the small format
stores and the big format stores instead of
the BigBoxCo stores and the MallCo stores.

A BigBoxCo Light battle . . . Its won in the Most everything that goes to the general
mind and the heart and not in what your
population on Project Convert either focuses
store looks like. Because BigBoxCo Light
on look and feel or sales results and doesnt
really isnt about you have graphics and
really answer the question of why are we
you have a handful of [type of
doing this rebrand. Thats actually not been
product] . . . theres still a pretty big
a hot issue this year anywhere.
divide culturally between BigBoxCo and
MallCo and that doesnt really exist in
most other places in the company
anymore.

5/4/05

We are going to really raise our revenues


Its pretty much the same . . . we didnt even
and probably drive some additional
extend some of the benefits that the store
sales. . . . Weve done a lot of study. . . .
that the BigBoxCo employees have and the
We have these ten years of negative comp
BigBoxCo Light dont. Im sorry, to the
sales at MallCo. Its an old brand. And we
BigBoxCo Light folksbecause, again, the
actually started doing something here.
level of complexity is notit is not that of
BigBoxCo, its that of MallCo.

12/6/06

It was notorious that [name of competitor]


It was very clear that the job wouldnt change
beat us every time and still beat us in
because were changing the brands. It was
terms of awareness. And one of the
very clear it would be the . . . the same job
reasons [is] because they have more stores
but it would be called BigBoxCo.
than we do. . . . We just realized that in
reality, we have more stores than
[competitor], so eventually if we convert
all the stores into big BigBoxCo single
brand, we will also raise awareness.

5/13/05 The project is really to reenergize the mall


I think from the marketing perspective, I look
stores, the existing MallCo locations . . .
at it as I tend to think of it as this is just
trying to convert it into BigBoxCo Light is
toto freshen up a deadbeat store.
about trying to bring what wed like to
think of as the BigBoxCo brand into the
mall . . . the colors in the store, the
inventory you see in the windows . . .
trying to bring some new energy into the
store, but also connect the two.

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489

TABLE 2
(Continued)
Illustrative Example
Interview
Number

Title

Date

Project Convert Is Significant

Project Convert Is Insignificant

17

Store
operations
manager

5/13/05

Theres some apprehension that MallCos


losing their identity. So I mean thered be
some mourning. Theres a lot of pride with
being associated with the cash cow in the
field. So who am I? would be a question
that would need to be answered. So I think
there would be some apprehension that
way. What is my identity now?

[asked about the changes effects on empoyees]


I mean a lot of the longer term people like
me if I was still in the field . . . the joining
with BigBoxCo, its one more thing. I still
get to sell [type of products].

18

Store
operations
specialist

5/13/05

It does affect a lot more than just changing


the name of the store on the storefront.

And all of our MallCo stores . . . have been


having to change hats. . . . Theyre used to
working at the [main store], with their
MallCo nametag [and] going down to the
kiosk [that MallCo also operates under a
separate name in the mall] and changing
nametags. . . . Its the same [with BigBoxCo
Light].

21

Store training
manager

6/9/05

n/a (not applicable; dimension not found in


this interview).

We dont have any specific BigBoxCo Light


materials right now. . . . If we created a
different manual, it would not be
significantly different because theres not
that many operational differences.

22

Field manager

6/14/05

There was some resistance even with


[employees] because we changed it into
zones within the stores basically like what
BigBoxCo does.

Were really not changing; its still the same


company. Its just changing the name for the
branding.

23

Field manager

6/14/05

I think that people will be excited. Im


certainly excited that were doing it and
were putting the money back into the
MallCo operation.

Its little things. But just like even just


brightening the store up and adding the
paint andand maybe making it a little
younger and fresher store location.

24

Field manager

6/14/05

Were spending the money and were


investing in the brand and they
[employees] play a huge role in the
success of this as a company. . . . Its
bringing us that much closer, the walls are
slowly closing in. Well all be in the same
big company . . . the [store] managers here
probably took my message from that
meeting and are like, Oh, Im one step
closer now. I really feel like Im part of
Retail, Inc. instead of MallCo.

Were doing a name change.

25

Field director

6/16/05

I remember the very day that they presented It gives a different ambiance. And so that is a
the new look of the store. And that day to
feel to the store. Even though nothing
me was like somethings going to happen
changes, the name changes.
here thats going to be terrific. To me, that
was the turning point . . . the image is . . .
not old, its new, its good, its Starbuckian
(laughing) . . . the tone is set in thein the
store that theyre excited, this is a great
thing, look how were going to . . . this is
connecting us more with BigBoxCo.

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June

TABLE 2
(Continued)
Illustrative Example
Interview
Number

Title

Date

Project Convert Is Significant

Project Convert Is Insignificant

30

Vice president,
store
planning

10/6/05

MallCo did not have a store planning


I run the store planning, architect and
department because so little work has been
construction group. . . . I manage [Tracy]
done in MallCo that theythey didnt have
who is the project manager for Project
any resources in maintenance or store
Convert. And the reason it landed in my
planning or the architecture piece . . .
world is kind of an odd place possibly for
there was a full blown store planning
her to sit. Is that the bulk of the conversion
department for BigBoxCo. When I came on
was, store planning and construction . . . a
board and we started workingtalking
lot of HR and operations, etc. at least
about the idea that BigBoxCo Light, my
initially havent changed.
desire was to open up that group to be all
encompassing. So that store planners for
BigBoxCo Light are also touching the
BigBoxCo so youre getting that sort of
cross-pollination. Everyones thinking the
same.

31

Senior vice
president,
MallCo

10/14/05

In a BigBoxCo Light store, one of my main


concerns is that as we convert, there is an
understanding, within the store . . . how it
will differentiate us and how it will
benefit a BigBoxCo customer . . . to service
their needs in a way that they didnt think
MallCo necessarily could do before. And a
good example of that would be BigBoxCo
is known for selection.

To take a look at the MallCo stores and


understand how we could update. You
know, how can we make these stores look
better? What should the layout be? Should
we change paint color, etc.?

32

President,
Retail, Inc.
(former
president
MallCo)

3/8/06

The biggest thing that is standing in the way


of really leveraging a single brand is we
dont have great incentives down through
the field force other than we are one big
happy company: why does a BigBoxCo
person care that much about how MallCo
does and vice versa particularly because
culturally we sort of set them up as
competitive entities a little bit like GMs
five brand strategies . . . Now we have that
connection that will try and drive more
the cross fertilization and the stuff that
needs to make a single plan work.

I would not foresee that you need massive


training effort to figure out you take great
[retail clerks] in the MallCo environment
and make them . . . sellers in BigBoxCo Light
environment. . . . I dont believe there was
any huge explicit effort to look at what you
need to do with staff because we are
renaming it to BigBoxCo Light. Its just that
fell into the same process they have done for
decades on how do you evaluate whether
somebody is any good at their job.

33

Chief marketing
and product
officer

3/24/06

I would describe that situation as really a


A lot of things are very similar and expected
turnaround. It was beyond realignment for
[regardless of type of store]. The mall is
basic situations. . . . MallCo had gone from
more driven by things that are hot and
realignment to turn around fairly rapidly, I
topical and the need for convenience is
would say in the last three or four years.
much stronger in the mall based format than
So we knew we needed to do a number of
it is in the superstores.
things. We knew we were missing in
terms of just basic requirements of a mall
based store and being able to fulfill
consumers needs just on that level, we
were underperforming.

This analysis is based on interviews I was able to record and transcribe. Two sets of interviews were excluded: int-0 (HR director,
3/23/05) and a group interview with int-4 (operations director), int-5, int-6 (marketing research manager), and int-7 (Project Convert project
manager) on 4/5/05.

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491

TABLE 3
Analysis of Documents along the Significance/Insignificance Dimension
Illustrative Example
Document
Number

Description

Date

Project Convert Is Significant

Project Convert Is Insignificant

Project Convert
update to
executives

2/05

Building the brand and marketing


theme/message . . . Create
market synergy.

2005 BigBoxCo Light Plans . . . BigBoxCo paint


palette; BigBoxCo Carpet; Black & white
photo graphic.

Project Convert
logistics
update

4/05

Please wait until your store


converts to BigBoxCo Light to
merchandise your [new type of
product].

Install graphics, carpentry work (as required):


install door kick plates . . . complete any
graphic/signage work.

E-mail sent to
employees and
customers

8/04 (ongoing)

Were unveiling a new look for a


familiar friend. . . . Our MallCo
store . . . is becoming BigBoxCo
Lighta new store with a
vibrant new atmosphere and an
extraordinary shopping
experience.

Youll continue to find a great selection of


[products] convenient shopping; and the
same commitment to service by the friendly
staff youve come to know.

10

Project Convert
Concept
Document

9/04

[preliminary goals of Project


Convert]: Create greater
consumer appeal (higher brand
awareness and increased
consumer reach); . . . Improve
marketing efficiencies;
Maximize investments in
advertising and; Reduce
marketing (collateral and
signage) costs; Create
operational efficiencies.

Due to the smaller size of the mall-format


store; this new store does not offer a
[signature BigBoxCo service].

11

Frequently asked
questions
(FAQ) sent to
store
employees

6/04 (until
8/04)

BigBoxCo Light will expand the


selection at MallCo to include
the hottest new [products] to
better serve the needs of
customers. In addition, well
potentially add a selection of
[additional products].

BigBoxCo Light will continue to be treated as


part of MallCo financially and report to
MallCo operations.

18

Employee update
of operational
details of the
change

7/04

Not applicable; dimension not


found in this document.

As long as we have MallCo stores in the


market place, we will continue to see
MallCards [MallCo corporate discount
card] . . . we have decided not to replace
existing MallCards. We dont want to
penalize existing customers because of the
name change. With the in-store system being
MallCo [point of sale], existing customers
can . . . do business as usual.

21

Updated Project
Convert
Implementation
Guide and
FAQ

09/04 to 12/04

As soon as the customer crosses


the lease line he or she should
feel that they are in a BigBoxCo
store. This not only reinforces
the message of the brand, it is
fundamental to achieving the
marketing efficiencies that are a
goal in this test.

BigBoxCo Light systems will remain the same


(i.e., MallCo) at this time.

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June

TABLE 3
(Continued)
Illustrative Example
Document
Number

Description

Date
9/04 (until
12/04)

Project Convert Is Significant

Project Convert Is Insignificant

You should never make BigBoxCo


Light seem worse or smaller
than BigBoxCo. Off course you
want to mention that BigBoxCo
Light is a small format store,
but that they will enjoy most of
the BigBoxCo benefits, such as
[type of services], a large [type
of products], and a
knowledgeable staff.

In case [customers] ask you about BigBoxCo


Light, you should tell them that we are
changing the name of their store in an effort
to better serve our customers. Reassure them
that the same employees they have come to
know will continue to help them.

31

FAQ sent to
store
employees

41

Project Convert
4/05
Communications
Plan

One of Retail, Incs Big Six


strategic initiatives for 2005 is
to convert selected MallCo
locations to BigBoxCo Light . . .
BigBoxCo Light will expand the
selection at MallCo . . . to better
serve the needs of customers.

We continue to offer our customers the


excellent service and convenience of a mall
based store. . . . Promotional activity at
BigBoxCo Light stores will be aligned
primarily with MallCo. . . . Customers are
savvy enough to appreciate both the
selection offered at a BigBoxCo superstore
and the convenience and value of our mallbased BigBoxCo Light and MallCo.

48

Updated FAQ
sent to
converting
stores

2/05 (ongoing)

Congratulations! . . . Loyal BigBoxCo


shoppers will now have the added
convenience of the BigBoxCo
brand and experience at the mall.
Branding our stores as
BigBoxCo . . . strengthens our
brand recognition as the worlds
largest [seller of products]. . . . Our
customers will enjoy most of the
BigBoxCo benefits.

The corporate structure of MallCo Company,


Inc. has not changed; legally, it has merely
adopted an additional name under which it
will operate.

49

Meeting agendas
sent to stores
about Project
Convert

3/05 (ongoing)

One of Retail, Inc.s Big Six


strategic initiatives for 2005 is
to convert selected MallCo
locations to BigBoxCo Light. . . .
Well be introducing [product]
selection, Select stores will
receive a [new category of
products].

MallCo and BigBoxCo Light are our mall


format stores, and customer expectations of
the experience differ from superstore
visits. . . . Our customers are savvy enough
to appreciate both the selection offered at a
BigBoxCo superstore and the convenience
and value of our mall-based BigBoxCo Light
and MallCo stores.

55

Presentation to a
geographic
market about
Project
Convert

3/05

Drive the growth of the mall


segment of our businesses
through capitalizing on the
existing loyalty to and awareness
of the BigBoxCo brand. MallCo
has had 5 years of negative
comp sales and we wanted to
look at ways of turning comp
sales around. . . . Converting
MallCo to a sub-brand of
BigBoxCo would have no
detrimental affects and would be
a very positive move. . . . We
found that the points of
connection between MallCo and
BigBoxCo were strong.

[It] is far more compelling to align the


promotional activity at BigBoxCo Light with
MallCo. We have seen from our research that
different promotional offerings resonate with
the mall shopper opposed to the big box
superstore shopper. . . . Its amazing that a
few changes can really change the shopping
experience for the customer!

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493

TABLE 3
(Continued)
Illustrative Example
Document
Number

Description

Date

Project Convert Is Significant

Project Convert Is Insignificant

59

Company
newsletter sent
to all managers
and employees

5/05

One of Retail, Inc.s Big Six


strategic initiatives for 2005 is
to convert selected MallCo
locations to BigBoxCo
Lights; . . . [the change]
strengthens our brand
recognition as the worlds
largest [industry].

By rebranding as BigBoxCo Light, stores


continue to offer customers the excellent
service and convenience of a mall-based
store.

61

Store newsletter
sent to all
employees

4/05

One of Retail, Inc.s Big Six


strategic initiatives for 2005 is
to convert selected MallCo
locations to BigBoxCo Light.

We continue to offer our customers the


excellent service and convenience of a mallbased store.

67

Letter sent to
employees at
stores that just
converted

2/05 (ongoing)

Congratulations on your Grand


Opening as BigBoxCo Light! . . .
MallCo shoppers will be
delighted with the changes that
weve made including . . . the
addition of an expanded line of
[products]; I am confident that
you will be able to drive the
additional sales needed as
BigBoxCo Light!

We continue to offer our customers the


excellent service and convenience of a mallbased store.

78

Strategic update
sent to all
managers and
employees

1/05

Retail, Inc.s 2005 Plan is simple


yet ambitious. Our Core 4
strategies remain the same as
previous years. . . . To support
these strategies, we have six
strategic initiatives. These Big
6 initiatives are . . . Convert
MallCo to BigBoxCo Light.

The conversions include more than changing


the signage outside stores. Paint, graphics,
carpeting, and fixtures are part of the
conversions.

104

Presentation
from meeting
in a
geographic
market
between
employees and
managers

8/05

The single brand test is a result of


our desire to drive the growth
of the mall segment of our
businesses through capitalizing
on the existing loyalty to and
awareness of the BigBoxCo
brand. . . . Customers will
expect the superstores and
BigBoxCo Light stores to be
closely connected. . . . It will be
very important that all of
staff . . . is informed on this
initiative as many customers
will be asking questions.
BigBoxCo Light should be
portrayed positively and as
another convenient shopping
channel for BigBoxCo
customers.

We have seen from our research that different


promotional offerings resonate with the mall
shopper opposed to the big box superstore
shopper. Due to system limitations and
space constraints, the BigBoxCo stores will
not be offering these services that the
BigBoxCo superstores offer.

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Academy of Management Journal

June

TABLE 3
(Continued)
Illustrative Example
Document
Number
118

Description
Store newsletter
sent to all
employees

Date
1/06

Project Convert Is Significant


The changes we have announced
to our field organization in
support of our single brand
strategy are significant and
comprehensive. . . . It will take
all of us working together to get
the benefits we anticipate. . . .
This team will be asking you to
help identify longer term
opportunities, such as what
processes can be streamlined,
policies unified, reports
consolidated.

interviews with me. For example, a field director


described the significance of the change by making
comparisons with other firms but ended by declaring that nothing changed.
When you walk in the stores it feels better . . . its
not cheap looking anymore. Before it felt just like a
RadioShack or Ritz Camera. Theyre just ew. You
feel like youre walking in 20 years ago. . . . [At]
smaller market meetings [I presented to] store managers and [saw] how excited they got, the fact that
we were going to do this and they could be a part of
it. And you could just see that their eyes were all
excited too. This is going to get market share for the
entire company, it could pull us into the number
one spot [in our industry]. I keep using the word
cool. . . . But its justit gives a different ambiance. . . . Even though nothing changes, the name
changes. (int-25; emphasis added)

Employees Narratives of the Change


I found that employees similarly used the significant-insignificant dimension to construct the
meaning of the change, but also added another
dimension: positive-negative. These two dimensions (positive-negative; significant-insignificant)
are illustrated using four different narratives.
Project Convert significantly improves the
store. This narrative (significant-positive) welcomes Project Convert as a major transformation of
MallCo. A BigBoxCo Light transformation is seen as
the panacea that will elevate stores performance.
As one employee said, Im really excited. . . . If
you had a choice, would you go to a MallCo or a
BigBoxCo Light? I love BigBoxCo. . . . And so I feel
like BigBoxCo Light, a lot of people are going to be,
Oh, wow. its like a little BigBoxCo (int-11).

Project Convert Is Insignificant


(Not applicable, dimension not found in this
document).

Constructing the store as a mini-BigBoxCo was seen


as leading to more customers. As one employee
said, The name will draw customers from other
large stores that have the ability to get the customers the products they want and to make it an enjoyable shopping experience (sur-11806). These
employees, like the managers, constructed MallCo
as outdated and considered a shift to BigBoxCo
Light as contemporizing the store and attracting
new business: Using the new brand to bring new
(and younger) customers into the stores that previously would not have done so, under the MallCo
brand. Increase sales . . . by increasing its market
share under the newer brand (sur-31098). Beyond
the new marketing and branding of BigBoxCo
Light, employees welcomed the new merchandising strategy. One employee remarked, Bring[ing]
in [type of] merchandise . . . would really help . . .
because it would be another source of revenue, and
no one else in the mall sells [this] (sur-11756).
Project Convert destroys MallCo. A second narrative (significant-negative) constructs the change
as detrimental to the MallCo division, eroding its
sense of identity. Employees mourn or grieve
the loss of MallCo. As one employee put it, Its sort
of sad that, you know, the MallCo name will go
away because its been there for a long, long time
(int-20). A field manager noted that her store employees were saddened by the fact that the MallCo
name could potentially be going away (int-23). An
employee offered a more biting assessment:
There was a reason I applied to MallCo [and] not
BigBoxCo in the first place. Despite being a mallbased chain, MallCo still retained the feel of a local,
neighborhood [store], where the bags said Americas favorite . . . store since 1933. Now, all of the

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new things, from our new sign to . . . to our new


paint, to our new cash wrap, to the new, random
quotes pretentiously painted on our walls where our
overstock used to be serve as pretentious reminders
that were not there to share our love of [products]
with our customers, were here as employees of
Retail, Inc., to make money. The [project] has succeeded in its objective of giving our store the look
and feel of a BigBoxCo, but is a failure in that that
is not something any of us wanted in the first place.
(sur-12130)

Beyond the mourning of MallCo and its lost identity, these employees also saw the major changes as
upsetting their work routines, being disruptive to
their stores, and involving work tasks that will
burn everyone out (sur-12057). For example:
There are a ton of changes. For example carpeting,
new lights, new shelves, new displays . . . just to
name a few. We had to convert everything that said
MallCo into BigBoxCo. And all these changes took
place during mall hours when customers should
have been the priority . . . [changes] . . . interrupted
everything! (sur-11110)

Project Convert is not ambitious enough to


make a difference. A third narrative constructs the
change as not being ambitious enough (insignificant-negative). This narrative focuses on the insignificance of the change in a way that remains skeptical over whether the project will rejuvenate the
organization. One employee remarked, Before
the conversion I was excited . . . after conversion
the business ran mostly the same. . . . Since then I
think I enjoyed being viewed as MallCo more (sur31106). Employees who told this narrative frequently fingered customers perceptions of the
store as indicating that the change would not make
a difference. For example, an employee said that
customers were disappointed at the insignificance
of the changes and mocked the concept of a BigBoxCo Light: Many people dont seem to understand the concept of a Light store, theyre always
disappointed that we dont have nearly as much
stuff as a regular BigBoxCo does. We usually get a
surprised reaction or people laugh at us (sur190380). Another employee noted that he frequently fielded questions about why his BigBoxCo
Light store did not have the same amenities as a
BigBoxCo. Employees said that when they answered these questions, the customers reacted
with, So you are not a real BigBoxCo? (sur31149). This mocking underlies employees constructions of the change as failing because it raised
customer expectations but delivered essentially the
same products and services. As one employee constructed the change,

495

Customers see the name BigBoxCo and expect


more. . . . And when I explain that we are a BigBoxCo Light they seem almost disappointed and tell
me that it was a waste of time and money. This leads
me to question and wonder, what is the point? Our
store is just not big enough to carry the name
BigBoxCo, we need a physically bigger store.
(sur-11109)

Project Convert preserves my work environment and job routines. A final narrative (insignificant-positive) constructs the conversion as involving insignificant changes but takes comfort in them.
This narrative focuses on the continuity in job routines and tasks. For example, an employee noted, I
think Project Convert was a great idea. . . . The
changes were not that bad. . . . I dont think its that
hard to convert. It doesnt affect my job basically
we are still being run like a MallCo, just a name
change (sur-31105). This narrative decouples the
effects of the change from the day-to-day impact on
employees. For example, an employee noted, I
think it was a good move. We have a lot more traffic
and a number of customers who come in and say
Oh! I did not know there was a BigBoxCo here! It
has been good for business. . . . Besides physical
store changes and traffic increase, nothing has been
affected (sur-31101; emphasis added). Similarly,
another employee added, It is a good idea. . . . I do
not think it will affect my job (sur-11460).
As with the managers narratives, I was left with
the question of how to explain different constructions of meaning. Content analysis allowed further
examining the data. I relied on the same dimension
of significant/insignificant used for the managerial
analysis, which also inductively emerged from the
employees narratives, but also added a positive
(constructs change as beneficial or desirable) and
negative (constructs change as detrimental or undesirable) dimension that was consistent with what
emerged from the analysis of employees narratives. Prior research suggested that the variation in
employees meaning constructions might reflect
differences over time. For example, research that
has adopted Lewins model for meaning constructions (e.g., Fiol, 2002) suggested that the significant-negative meaning would be constructed early
in the change, when employees were not unfrozen and had negative views of a major uprooting
of the status quo, and that significant-positive
meanings would occur later, after employees had
embraced the change. Accordingly, I content-analyzed employees constructions of the change over
the two periods of three months each that entailed the main change implementation: the first
period was August to October 2005, and the second was November 2005 to January 2006. A sec-

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Academy of Management Journal

ond pattern I sought to examine was how the four


types of meanings might vary because of work
context differences. Research on both narratives
and sensemaking (Gephart, 1993; Hansen, 2006)
contains claims that local contexts (such as
stores) provide symbolic materials that lead individuals in different contexts to narrate their work
experiences differently. The most important difference among the stores was that some had announced plans to convert to BigBoxCo Lights,
and others had not.
Table 4 contains an overview of the content
analysis and reports the frequencies of the meaning constructions by time period and context,
along with illustrative examples. I used frequencies as a way of reducing and summarizing the
large amount of employee data (Miles & Huberman, 1994), to facilitate examining patterns of
meanings by time period and context. I also
present illustrative examples of the meaning patterns in Table 4, to continue to provide voice to
my informants (Pratt, 2008).
I found that employees constructions of Project
Convert had different patterns by time period: as
the change project progressed (i.e., going from period 1 to period 2), employees at both converting
and nonconverting stores more frequently constructed the change as significantalthough this
was mostly driven by significant-positive (for converting stores) and significant-negative (for nonconverting stores). Moreover, during the earlier
time period, employees at converting stores more
frequently constructed the change as insignificantpositive and insignificant-negative, whereas employees at nonconverting stores less frequently
constructed the change as insignificant-negative.
When comparing local contexts, I also found that
employees of converting stores more often constructed the change as significant (positive or negative) than did their counterparts at nonconverting
locations. At nonconverting stores, the change was
constructed as more negative as it progressed. Although I uncovered four types of narratives employees used, the subsequent content analysis
helped relate these patterns to time period (when
employees implemented the change) and local
context (whether or not a store had announced
plans to convert to BigBoxCo Light), showing that
(1) significant constructions were more common
later in the change and more common at converting stores, (2) that insignificant constructions
were more common earlier in the change for converting stores, and (3) more negative meanings
were constructed at nonconverting stores later in
the change.

June

Meanings and Employee Change Responses


A final part of my analysis focused on understanding employees narrated responses how employees saw themselves responding to the change
in view of the meaning they made of that change.
Inductively, I identified three responses: Resisting
captures statements about subverting the change,
such as reducing work effort or raising objections to
new practices. Championing captures statements
about making the change a success, such as promoting the change to others. Accepting captures statements about making necessary adjustments to
implement the change, such as learning new procedures. I now illustrate the primary patterns I
found and key differences.
Change resisting. I found change resisting in two
primary forms. First, some employees who constructed the change as significant-negative narrated
their response as resisting. The change led to a large
transformation, but one that undermined a familiar
and comfortable status quo. Some of these employees, primarily those in stores without announced
plans to convert, resisted the change because they
saw it as threatening their job security. By observing other stores selected to convert to BigBoxCo
Light, these employees interpreted the push to depart from the status quo as a potential indicator that
their stores would be closed and their jobs lost. As
one employee put it:
BigBoxCo feels corporate . . . [the change] does not
cause cohesiveness but exclusion. By our store not
converting, we feel the store will be closing, which
does not foster a lot of confidence in the job; i.e., not
as dedicated. (sur-11754)

Employees with significant-negative constructions


at converting stores also narrated resisting but in a
different way. Their concern was less about job
security and more about the loss of identity
(MallCo) or the significant tasks of converting to a
BigBoxCo Light. Consider two examples:
I could feel pride for my store and the MallCo name,
but not for BigBoxCo. While the remodel has improved the stores appearance, and the compatibility
of the 2 stores is more readily apparent to customers,
I can see no other advantage to giving up the MallCo
brand. . . . We do have to deal with lots of ongoing
customer questions, and that is the greatest effect . . .
it will take time before we actually think of ourselves as a BigBoxCo. We are all loyal to the
MallCo brand, as are many of our customers.
(sur-31298)
I dont like the fact that we have changed to a BigBoxCo Light. Its confusing to our old MallCo customers. . . . Our store is too small for the amount of
stock weve been getting in our shipments; and peo-

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497

TABLE 4
Summary of Employees Constructions of the Meaning of the Change by Time Period and Local Contexta
Meaning

Period 1

Period 2

Illustration of Meaning

45

52

Converting to BigBoxCo Light has had a very positive affect on our store:
employees, and customers. It has energized our staff to see the
company invest the time and money to convert the store. . . . BigBoxCo
is a name that is widely recognized by consumers. MallCo is older and
a lot of consumers see them as old. . . . We now carry more [specific
products] and [specific products] than we had previously. It has
affected me in a positive way. The sales have gotten better. Gift
certificate sales have skyrocketed. My job is more fun now because
employees and customers are excited about the change. (sur-11002)

InsignificantPositive

53

29

I was extremely happy. . . . We will still be the same company so it


wont affect my job. However the store should do well. (sur-14812)

SignificantNegative

43

43

It was and has not been as smooth transition. Implementation of the


transition from the corporate level was not very well done.
Communication between the store/[headquarters]/Distract office was
problematic at best. . . . Customer base is expecting the same
experience they would at larger BigBoxCo stores. Therefore, long-term
success is speculative at best. Our store now does more support
work. For traditional/larger BigBoxCo stores by taking returns from
their stores (though a completely different inventory system) and often
spending time researching inventory at the BigBoxCo stores. For
customers, tracking down the [products] and subsequently calling the
BigBoxCo store to hold the merchandise for customer. We do not
receive compensation for this time (since no actual sale is conducted
at our location) and actually selling and engaging our customers is
often secondary due to the nature of the BigBoxCo customer. We are
very much the ugly stepsister in this scenario. (sur-31098)

InsignificantNegative

53

24

I was excited about conversion, but dont think that the company was
willing to spend the money to do it correctly. . . . There were no major
policy changes and the store does not look that different. We
desperately needed new wall fixtures, floor fixtures, and carpet, all of
which are over a decade old. The company did not want to spend the
money so the new things look out of place. Like putting a new collar
on an old mangy dog. (sur-14814)

32

35

The BigBoxCo Light conversions are a good direction for the company. I
foresee a great deal of customer excitement. . . . Customer curiosity
alone should increase traffic and sales. (sur-31273)

InsignificantPositive

41

41

The brand recognition that we will receive if converted to a BigBoxCo


Light will definitely help store traffic. . . . The biggest change is the
name and any system alterations. As far as the job itself, it will remain
the same. Same tasks and objectives. (sur-11542)

SignificantNegative

14

31

[Im] Afraid that customers will see us as just an offshoot of a big store
where they dont get the same customer service as we provide. [Im]
afraid of customers in 50 age range feeling a abandoned. (sur-31225)

InsignificantNegative

18

38

Customersand staff!Have to confront change. Thats always hard


. . . . Dont know specific details of changes, other than signing.
Havent seen any effects [on my job] to date. (sur-31454)

Converting stores
SignificantPositive

Nonconverting stores
SignificantPositive

a
Numbers refer to the percentage of surveyed employees who constructed the change using both dimensions of the cell (e.g.,
significant and positive). Employees could be counted as constructing meanings on more than one set of dimensions.

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Academy of Management Journal

ple see the word BigBoxCo and think we can get


any [type of product] in the world. They dont understand why our computer data base is so limited. . . . It will burn everyone out because we cant
get [specific tasks completed]. (sur-12057)

I also found that some employees who constructed the change as insignificant-negative narrated resisting, emphasizing not how the change
uprooted the status quo but quite the opposite
the change was not ambitious enough. One
employee said:
The virtual excitement among the store usually died
down when we saw how little the look of the store
changed based on what we were led to believe by
[home office] pictures and prospects. Since the
changeover not too much has changed other than
more customers asking questions about Where
MallCo went. (sur-31126)

The employee constructed the change as executed


in a way that was less significant than she was led
to believe it would be. Additionally, she noted that
her excitement (and that of her colleagues) faded.
Consider a final example, in which the employee
noted that the project did not change much about
the store. He went on to question to efficacy of the
change:
My feelings about my store converting to a BigBoxCo Light are that the name change will help the
bottom line marginally but in the long run customers will realize that the content of the store is almost
exactly the same as a MallCo. If you are going to do
something, you cannot do it halfway and expect
people to be satisfied; you have to give them something to make them want to come to a store in which
they have a limited comfort level. (sur-12117)

Change championing. The dominant pattern of


change championing came from employees who
constructed significant-positive meanings. These
employees constructed Project Convert as leading
to a beneficial transformation of their stores, and
they wanted to help by doing whatever they could
to make the change successful. One employee
noted:
The level is different. There is more excitement by
customers and employees. . . . This conversion will
affect my job by adding to the work load. We will be
more focused on customer service and keeping the
shelves full of product. I will need to be more conscious of my employees and the things they are
saying and doing. My store will be affected in only
good ways. (sur-180165)

Notice that this employee constructed the change


as leading to a higher work load, but unlike the
resisting employees, this employee articulates en-

June

gaging in responses (such as increasing customer


service) to ensure a smooth implementation. Consider a second example:
I am very happy with our conversion. . . . I believe
our store looks so much brighter and more welcoming. . . . We lost everything that had MallCo on it.
We received a beautiful store remodel. We are now
able to offer [new products]. And I believe we might
start getting some different store promotions that
maybe MallCo wont have. (sur-31430)

This employee went on to construct a problem with


the changeI do however think it has highly confused our customers but also saw herself behaving in ways that rectified this problem and therefore worked to make the change successful: I
believe that with us continually talking with our
customers that they will also adjust to the
changes.
Change accepting. The primary patterns for
change accepting coincided with either insignificant-positive or significant-positive constructions.
Those who constructed the change as insignificantpositive often talked about how their jobs would
remain the same and said that adjusting to it would
not be an imposition. For example, one employee
noted: I was extremely happy. . . . We will still be
the same company so it wont affect my job. However the store should do well (sur-14812). Notice
that the employee constructed the change as positive, even suggesting that the store should do
well. The employee concluded that though the
store would improve its performance, the company
and her job would remain the same. Those who
constructed the change as significant-positive and
who saw themselves as change-accepting similarly
noted that they would be able to adjust to the
change, even if that change was significant. Consider this example:
BigBoxCo is a more recognizable name. [BigBoxCo
Light] is a closer link to other BigBoxCo stores. [The
change] cuts down on BigBoxCo/MallCo paperwork
and verbal association. . . . I came to work with a
positive attitude and a commitment to do only greatquality work and meet the needs of every customer.
I came to learn all aspects of the job and be an asset
to my fellow employees and the company.
(sur-12014)

NARRATIVES AND STRATEGIC


CHANGE IMPLEMENTATION
In this section, I summarize the results of the
analysis and blend my findings with existing theory to develop a narrative model of strategic change
implementation. As the findings summarized

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above demonstrate, managers simultaneously constructed change as both significant and insignificant. Employees also relied on these dimensions
but added the additional dimension of positive or
negative. Employees meaning constructions were
patterned by time period and local context and
helped explain how employees narrated their responses to change. These findings, examined
with existing theory, help ground a model of
change that not only affirms, but also challenges
and advances, meaning research within the
Lewinian paradigm.
Types of Narratives during Strategic Change
Since the organizational studies literature has
largely conceptualized narratives as a way to portray a new understanding of an organization and
break down existing cognitive schemata (Fiol,
2002; Gioia & Chittipeddi, 1991), I turned to narrative research in psychology to unpack the wider
variation of narratives I found. Although psychologists research self-narratives (narratives that relate self-relevant events, such as marriage, over
time), they provide a broad framework for classifying narratives helpful in elaborating my findings.
The basic framework these scholars use is to examine narratives in a way that establishes directionality along a good-bad evaluative dimension (MacIntyre, 1977). For example, Gergen and Gergen (1997)
classified narratives into three types: progressive,
regressive, and stability. Progressive narratives
link experiences or events in a way that moves
toward the good evaluative dimension. The progressive narrative is akin to the strategic change
narrative in organizational studies: managers tell a
story about how an organization will improve by
adopting a new direction (e.g., Barry & Elmes,
1997). A regressive narrative links experiences in a
way that moves toward the bad evaluative dimension. This is akin to the resistance-to-change
narrative in organization studies; employees construct a change as leading to a significantly worse
organization because they bemoan the loss of something they value and thus resist the new way of life
brought by the change (e.g., Nadler, 1981). Both
progressive and regressive narratives construct
change as leading to a significantly new organization, but they differ as to whether this change is
good or bad.
Gergen and Gergen (1997) identified a third narrative that is largely absent from the organization
studies literature. Their stability narrative links experiences in a way that keeps the evaluative dimension the same. This narrative, applied to change,
suggests that employees or managers tell narratives

499

about how their organization is not undergoing major change and about how the status quo is being
preserved. Stability narratives can be a means of
reducing uncertainty by constructing meaning that
is familiar. Current approaches to narratives during
change emphasize new constructions of an organization (Barry & Elmes, 1997), yet managers also try
to reduce uncertainty during change (Schweiger &
DeNisi, 1991). They may attempt to accomplish the
latter with stability narratives. Accordingly, the
progressive, regressive, and stability typology captures how managers use discourse to portray both
change and continuity and how employees subsequently respond to this discourse in very different
ways. I now elaborate by describing a narrative
model of strategic change implementation.

A Narrative Model of Strategic


Change Implementation
Managerial narratives. Figure 1 provides a
summary of how narratives influence strategic
change implementation. The model shows that
meanings attributed to change vary along two theoretical dimensions. The first dimension, preservational or transformational, accounts for the changeas-insignificant theme in the data, whereby change
can be constructed as preservational, characterized
by small and minor adjustments (Brown & Eisenhardt, 1997) that preserve existing meanings about
an organization. The first dimension also accounts
for the change-as-significant theme, whereby meanings can present change as transformational, characterized by phenomena that are wide in scope and
involve new organizational meanings (Bartunek &
Moch, 1987; Weick & Quinn, 1999).
The second dimension classifies meanings as either supportivethat is, consistent with managerial intentions or subversive: undermining managerial views of a change (Ewick & Silbey, 1995;
Gabriel, 1995; Weick & Quinn, 1999). Managerial
discourse about change is supportive, but it can be
preservational (a stability narrative) or transformational (a progressive narrative).7 Employees narratives also vary by being transformational or preservational, but they additionally vary on whether

One potential reason why managerial narratives did


not vary along the supportive/subversive dimension is
that managers were often publicly constructing the
change for employees, and they therefore may have held
back from constructing it as negative. Another possibility
is that, since managers largely formulated the strategy,
they tended to view it in a positive light.

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June

FIGURE 1
Summary of How Narratives Influence Change Implementation

they are supportive or subversive, leading to progressive, regressive, or stability narratives.


Before the rest of the model is unpacked, it is
important to explain why managers may convey
preservational meanings alongside transformational ones when the fundamental goals of strategic
change are to convince a firms employees that
existing interpretations are no longer valid and to
devise a new, unequivocal strategic direction for
the firm (Gioia & Chittipeddi, 1991; Kotter, 1996).
One possibility is that stability narratives are a result of managerial confusion. Managers may struggle to bridge old and new ways of understanding
change (Bartunek, 1984), and the conflict between
meanings that ensues may be unintentional. Although this possibility cannot be emphatically
ruled out, I relied on multiple data sources (including documents vetted by Retail, Inc.s communications department to ensure managers intentions

were expressed), multiple analytic techniques, and


member-checking. All of these suggested that the
creation of both transformational and preservational meanings was intentional. Furthermore, content analysis eliminated other possibilities that
would suggest that manager meanings simply
changed over time or that there was disagreement
resulting in some managers telling exclusively progressive narratives and others, exclusively stability
narratives.
A more plausible explanation comes from the
concept of strategic ambiguity. According to this
concept, managers are intentionally equivocal
about meanings to promote unified diversity
(Eisenberg, 1984)a condition that allows employees and managers to have multiple interpretations
of a change while believing that they agree on
meanings. For example, by providing equivocal interpretations of the (in)significance of change, man-

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Sonenshein

agers were able to appeal both to employees who


welcomed shattering the status quo and were excited by progressive narratives that stated a new
direction for the firm (Kelman, 2005) and to employees whose fear of uncertainty might be assuaged by stability narratives stating that little
would change (Miller, Johnson, & Grau, 1994). This
argument suggests the purposeful use of equivocal
discourse and offers a contrast with prescriptive
calls for managerial clarity of meanings (Kotter,
1996). The strategic ambiguity argument is also
consistent with Padgett and Ansells (1993) explanation of the rise of Cosimo de Medici in Florence
through robust action, in which leaders actions
can be coherently interpreted from multiple perspectives, as opposed to sending a clear and singular message. Equivocal discourse could be another
mechanism to instill a sense of continuity for some
employees and a sense of change for others. Scholars have suggested that managers may temper radical change to make it more acceptable to employees (Reger, Gustafson, Demarie, & Mullane, 1994),
but I find evidence of an alternative approach in
which managers present multiple simultaneous
constructions of changetransformational and
preservational. Put another way, the managerial
narrative during strategic change is neither the strategic change narrative of transformation (Barry &
Elmes, 1997), nor the uncertainty-reducing narrative that conveys stability, but rather a set of interwoven narratives that affirm both themes. In conveying these narratives, managers are proactively
equivocal in their attempt to exercise greater control over employees interpretations (Padgett &
Ansell, 1993). I represent these interwoven narratives with a jagged line in Figure 1.
Employee narratives and responses. Figure 1
also shows the types of narratives employees tell
during strategic change. It shows that employees
narratives vary on an additional dimension (supportive or subversive). More specifically, employees progressive narratives capture meanings similar to those of managers narrating how the
organization is undergoing a beneficial transformation. I find these narratives are patterned with
prochange responses, such as championing or accepting. On the other hand, the regressive narratives, although also constructing the change as involving a key transformation, instead attach a
subversive meaning to this transformation, thereby
constructing the change as leading to an organizational decline. These employees more likely narrate resistance to the change.
Employees also tell two types of stability narratives: the supportive stability narrative latches onto
managers construction of the change as a negligi-

501

ble modification, with the organization maintaining its positive state. These employees more likely
narrate supporting the change, as they accept the
status quo. Conversely, the subversive stability narrative constructs the organization as remaining the
same, but in a state that is not acceptable. These
employees more likely narrate resisting the change
for its insignificance. Although both stability narratives (supportive and subversive) construct the
organization as only minimally changing, they differ in their construction of the status quo as either
positive or negative, which can lead to very different responses.
What might explain the telling of these four narratives and their related narrated responses? Prior
theory and the analysis within this study support
the explanation that employees embellish managerial narratives by making sense of them, a process
also influenced by time period and local context.
Employees are presented with managerial narratives as a set of symbolic resources they can draw
on to construct their own meanings (Swidler,
1986). Managers present a repertoire of meanings,
including constructions of a change as both significant and insignificant, as opposed to an unequivocal single meaning (Eisenberg, 1984; Padgett &
Ansell, 1993). Employees select from these meanings to elaborate their own construction of meaning
as they make sense of the change. Yet, by adding a
negative valence (i.e., subversive meanings), some
employees produce very different constructions of
the change than the managers have offered. In Figure 1, the funnel (central triangle) signifies employees sensemaking. It shows that although managers
simultaneously present preservational and transformational constructions supportive of the change
to employees, employees do not always adopt these
meanings in their entiretythey select part of the
interwoven narrative (e.g., significant/insignificant) and then may embellish it with a valence. The
outcome of this process is four possible employee
narratives.
The findings from this study suggest two potential mechanisms to explain some of the differences
in employees narratives, and I represent these
mechanisms in italic inside the funnel: time period
(when was the change implemented?) and local
context (was a given store centrally involved in the
change?). I found that transformational meanings
were more common later in the change (period) and
in converting stores (context), that insignificant
meanings were more common earlier in the change
for converting stores (period), and that more subversive meanings were constructed at nonconverting stores (context) and later in the change (period).
One explanation for greater instances of transfor-

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mational meanings in the later period is that, although managerial discourse was similar to that in
the earlier period, and the types of tasks required of
employees were the same, employees based their
meaning constructions on the broader change context (all of MallCo), as opposed to the local context
(their store). This broader change context included
more (i.e., an increasing number of stores chainwide) of the same type of change (conversions). The
accumulating number of stores participating in
the change in the later period made more salient
the fact that the change was not an incremental
adjustment, but rather a systematic strategic change
involving many parts of the division. Also of interest, employees at stores with announced plans to
convert were more likely than the employees at
nonconverting stores to construct transformational
meanings (either supportive or subversive), as their
local context had stronger cues of significant organizational change (e.g., new procedures and products). Finally, one potential explanation for the increase of subversive meanings among employees at
nonconverting stores in the later period of the
change could be that these employees felt increasingly excluded or disconnected from the change.
Although these conclusions warrant further investigation, they suggest that meanings can vary by
level of context (e.g., an entire division versus a
particular location) and time period for the same
change.
Two narrative pathways to strategic change
implementation. The findings suggest two narrative pathways managers simultaneously use to implement strategic change and along which employees subsequently construct their own meanings and
narrate responses to change. In the transformational pathway, managers unfreeze employees by
constructing a new, better organization for them
(using a progressive narrative), and employees then
construct transformational meanings. However, as
Figure 1 suggests, the transformational meanings
employees produce can take two forms: the new
organization as a better replacement for the old
(and hence, they tell a progressive narrative) or as a
worse replacement (and hence, they tell a regressive narrative). For employees who construct the
new organization as worse, their transformational
meanings offer a radical departure from those of
managers. The broader theoretical process of the
transformational pathway is that managers unfreeze employees through the progressive narratives, employees constructions of the organization
move through an altered interpretation, and the
content of this movement (the organization is better
or worse because of the change) explains patterns

June

in how employees see themselves responding to


change.
In the preservational pathway, the managers stability narrative constructs the change as consistent
with the status quo, thereby freezing employees
existing meaning constructions. Consequently, employees do not construct new meanings for the
organization and instead construct the change as
consistent with the status quo. However, employees add an interpretive dimension to the existing
meanings they endorse: if employees are satisfied
with the status quo, they tell supportive stability
narratives that suggest that the change preserves
what they value about their organization. However,
if employees are dissatisfied with the status quo,
managers freezing it and employees construction
of the organization as remaining the same lead to a
subversive stability narrative. The broader theoretical process for the preservational pathway is that
managers attempt to freeze employees meanings
and that these meanings freeze either a positively
or negatively constructed status quo.
DISCUSSION
By considering the narratives of managers and
employees, as well as allowing for a broadened
meaning space, I have elaborated theory around
two pathways by which meaning constructions influence strategic change implementation. This
elaboration has implications for understanding
core assumptions in change, particularly Lewins
(1951) often-used theory of meaning constructions,
as well as for understanding employees construction of meanings during organizational change.
Reconsidering Lewins Three-Stage Model
Although for many scholars, Lewins model of
change implementation is the model of change implementation (Dawson, 1994; Elrod & Tippett, 2002;
Marshak, 1993), the findings from this study not only
affirm, but also challenge and elaborate upon this
approach. The transformational path shown here affirms and elaborates research on how managers unfreeze existing meanings and construct new meanings for employees (Fiol, 2002; Gioia & Chittipeddi,
1991; Isabella, 1990; Labianca et al., 2000) by using
discourse to create instability in members ways of
understanding the organization, and [to] demand that
they make some new sense out of it (Gioia & Chittipeddi, 1991: 434). Yet my findings indicate that employees do not directly import managerial narratives
about change, but rather, they embellish them. For
example, my findings suggest that successfully unfrozen employees may tell a narrative describing how

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their organization will take a turn for the worse, effectively narrating resistance to change. This suggests
a potential danger of unfreezing employeesthe
movement in meanings may be in a very different
direction than management hopes for and expects.
When existing interpretations become unfrozen,
managerially sanctioned narratives are only one possibility. As a result, strategic change is a series of
multiple, sometimes conflicting narratives (Dawson
& Buchanan, 2005), in which understanding all narratives becomes vital to explaining how strategic
change unfolds.
The findings from the current study also challenge
research within the Lewinian paradigm by emphasizing managers strategic and simultaneous use of progressive and stability narratives. Contra Lewins idea
of unfreezing employees, in the preservational pathway, managers use discourse to first freeze meanings,
and employees then affirm constructions of the
change that preserve the status quo (Weick & Quinn,
1999). From a Lewinian perspective, the simultaneous use of the preservational pathway is antithetical to the purpose of change (which is to unfreeze the
status quo), but my findings suggest that managers
hedge their bets by being strategically ambiguous to
balance the need to promote change with minimizing
uncertainty. As a result, strategic change implementation is not a singular process but rather a set of
simultaneous processes that, though on the surface
seem contradictory, work in concert in a delicate
balance of change and continuity. Such an approach
offers a view competing with that of research suggesting that managers seek alignment during change
through general clarity about the change (Balogun &
Johnson, 2005). Instead, managers do not seek unitary
meaning, but equifinal meaning (Donnellon et al.,
1986), in which different interpretations of change
evolve, all leading to similar and supportive responses. However, although managers may seek equifinal meanings that lead to supportive responses, employees further embellish these meanings and thus
build a wide range of meanings and responses to
changesome supportive, some subversive.
Employee Constructions of Meaning
This study also sheds new light on the role of
employees meaning constructions during strategic
change implementation. Prior research has focused
on how managers provide employees with information about change (e.g., Lewis, 2000; Schweiger &
DeNisi, 1991; Tourish, Paulsen, Hobman, & Prashant,
2004), exhibiting a sender orientation in which it is
assumed that meaning is a function of how managers
transfer an interpretive reality to employees. Accordingly, scholars have not focused enough attention on

503

understanding how employees embellish these


meanings of change (Bartunek et al., 2006).
Although managers exercise control over formal
systems, employees have agency whereby they can
construct different types of meanings that can alter
the meaning of a change and their response to it. I
found that some employees embellished either a
managerial stability or progressive narrative by adding a negative valence to that narrative. This suggests
that although managers use discourse to exercise influence over employees during change implementation, employees also have some agency to construct
their own meanings that deviate from those of managers often with consequences for how employees
narrate themselves responding to change. As a result,
the managerial narrative of change is only one account of what really happened (Dawson &
Buchanan, 2005), as a number of narratives coexist
and compete to be heard. As narratives compete, at
least two distinct clashes arise. Employees who embellish managements progressive narrative clash on
whether the new direction of an organization is positive or negative; and employees who embellish managements stability narrative clash on whether the
status quo is positive or negative.
Additionally, though narratives have been viewed
as tools whereby employees can undermine management (Murphy, 1998), the current study sheds light
on the breadth of these subversive meanings and
identifies some of their consequences for change. For
example, I found that employees created subversive
meanings because they constructed the change as
either doing too much or too little. These two types of
subversive meanings suggest that scholars need to
focus not only on employees positive or negative
attitudes about change (as is common in most research focusing on resistance (Armenakis et al., 1993;
Piderit, 2000)) but also on the significant-insignificant dimension, which substantially refines why employees have negative constructions of change. Understanding this why part of subversive meanings
offers a richer picture of employees constructions of
the meaning of a change, as it shows that similar
evaluations of the change (positive or negative) occur
for very different reasons. It also helps practicing
managers tailor change implementation tactics to
very different constituencies: those employees who
think the change goes too far and those who think the
change does not go far enough.
I have also illustrated several patterns of meaning
related to narrated employee responses. Previous research has focused on how psychological states, such
as commitment (Herscovitch & Meyer, 2002), and
individual differences, such as self-esteem (Wanberg
& Banas, 2000), explain employee responses to
change. Scholars, particularly those studying resis-

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tance, have also focused on mechanisms such as the


use of clear communication (Miller et al., 1994) to
reduce change resistance. My approach is more in
line with Heracleous and Barretts (2001) interpretive
approach: the two pathways of change lead to a similar array of narrated responses to change, but also
explain how these responses have different meanings
and different implications for change. For example,
constructing oneself as accepting a change because of
a stability (supportive) narrative is different from constructing oneself as accepting a change because of a
progressive narrative, with the latter perhaps leading
to a more sustained support of the change, since one
has bought into managements construction of the
change as a positive and beneficial transformation
(versus the change as not altering the [positive] status
quo and having few costs). Alternatively, an employee may construct him- or herself as resisting because a change goes too far (regressive) or not far
enough (subversive-stability). This outline broadens
Piderits (2000) point that not all resistance is negative by suggesting that the implications of employees
responses can change depending on the meaning constructions to which their resistance is related. For
managers, this suggests that not all change resistors
and acceptors are created equal. By understanding
the underlying meanings employees construct, versus just a manifested response, managers can better
tailor narratives and other mechanisms for managing
change to groups of employees. At the same time, this
outline suggests that some employees may want to go
further than managers in pushing for change, a point
scholars often miss when they assume all deviations
from managers agendas are intended to undermine
change (Ford et al., 2008; Piderit, 2000).
A final point is that scholars working within the
Lewinian paradigm have proposed that a failure to
unfreeze employees can lead to resistance (Labianca
et al., 2000). By unfreezing and subsequently moving
employees constructions of meaning, managers can
overcome resistance. Yet the findings from my study
question this view on two fronts: (1) employees can
come to see themselves accepting a change even if
they tell a stability narrative and subsequently construct the organization as not changing, and (2) even
employees whose constructions get unfrozen and
subsequently moved may nevertheless move in a way
that leads to a regressive narrative and resistance.
These points suggest the importance of accounting for
both broadened sources and types of meanings that
can better explain when and how resistance may
arise, as well as the important idea that employees
may accept change even if their meanings are frozen
by managerial discourse. For practicing managers,
these arguments suggest that not all employees need
to be unfrozen; some employees construct a change

June

(regardless of its objective features) as consistent with


a positive status quo.

Limitations and Future Directions


As with any case study, the goal here was not to
provide statistically generalizable conclusions but
rather to expand and generalize theories (Yin,
1994). Nevertheless, a way of enhancing the credibility of a case study is to identify similar patterns
from other cases (Stake, 1995). In fact, the patterns
I have described at Retail, Inc. are similar to those
in several well-documented cases. For example,
Charlotte Beers drove change at Ogilvy & Mather by
introducing new meanings around brand stewardship (i.e., a progressive narrative) but also by emphasizing the preservation of the companys core
values (i.e., a stability narrative) (Sackley & Ibarra,
1995). Similarly, during the HP and Compaq
merger, managers told progressive narratives about
creating a new culture while also telling stability
narratives about maintaining the HP way and
preserving Compaqs keynotes of dynamism and
speed (Perlow & Kind, 2004).
This study also raises key questions about purposeful ambiguity. The premise of strategic ambiguity suggests that managers appeal to both employees welcoming and employees shunning
change, yet the use of interwoven progressive and
stability narratives holds the potential to create so
much ambiguity that resistance is sparked and the
entire change process is undermined (Larson &
Tompkins, 2005). If managers implement change
by appealing to those who both support and want
to alter the status quo, how do managers construct
multiple meanings without introducing so much
equivocality that they undermine the change process? Along these lines, future research can examine the functional role of interwoven narratives.
Another direction for future research is to more
systematically examine the relationships proposed in
the theory I developed, such as those between managerial and employee narratives, and between employee narratives and responses. As a case study
within the interpretive paradigm, the purpose of my
study and the type of data I collected were not ideal
for establishing causal relationships. Instead, I emphasized developing, versus testing, theory (GoldenBiddle & Locke, 2007). As such, future research
should test the proposed model and properly quantify its relationships. Additionally, future research
may find additional dimensions of meanings as well
as different types of narrated responses. For example,
although I found both relatively active (championing
and resisting) and relatively passive (accepting) types

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505

of responses, there may be an even wider variety of


responses in other settings.

Berelson, B. 1952. Content analysis in communication


research. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

Conclusion

Boje, D. M. 1991. The storytelling organization: A study


of story performance in an office-supply firm. Administrative Science Quarterly, 36: 106 126.

Strategic change involves altering employees


construction of meanings by using a discourse
that sets a new direction for a firm, yet I also
found that strategic change involves the creation
of a discourse of stability. Accordingly, I developed theory around how managers interweave
narratives to implement strategic change, and
how employees embellish these interwoven narratives to make sense of the change and to narrate
their response to it. The examination of these
narratives helps unlock the patterns and consequences of important differences in meanings for
strategic change implementation.
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APPENDIX A
Interview and Survey Protocols
Interview Questions for Store Employees
General background information (everyone)
1. Can you tell me about what you do for Retail, Inc.?

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2. How long have you worked in this position? What


did you do before taking this position? Can you tell
me about your other experience in retail?
3. What is effective communication to you?
Questions if Project Convert implemented at location
1. Can you tell me about the Project Convert initiative?
What is it? How did you first find out about the
initiative? Probe: If you had to explain Project Convert to a new employee, how would you explain it?
2. How did you address or explain Project Convert to
customers? How did you address or explain Project
Convert to your staff (for managers)?
3. What role did you play in implementing Project Convert? Probe: if manager (did you share communications packet with employees?) if retail clerk (did your
manager share communications packet with you?)
4. How has Project Convert affected your job, and the
company?
5. Would you describe Project Converts roll-out as a
success? Why or why not?
6. What concerns do you have about Project Convert?
Questions if Project Convert NOT implemented at
location
1. Have you heard anything about the Project Convert?
What is it? Probe: If you had to explain Project Convert to a new employee, how would you explain it?
2. How did you first find out about the Project Convert?
3. What, if any, preparations are you taking for implementing the Project Convert?
4. Have you received any communications from Headquarters about the Project Convert? What did these
communications say?
5. What do you think the Project Convert will mean for
your job, and the company?
6. Have you had to answer questions about the Project
Convert to customers or staff? How did you explain
the issue to them?
7. What concerns do you have about Project Convert?

June

Interview Questions for Managers


Note: Since I interviewed employees with different role
responsibilities at Headquarters, I often modified the following interview protocol to the persons role.
1. Can you tell me about what you do for Retail, Inc.?
2. Tell me about your role in Project Convert? When
and how did you first get involved?
3. What was the origin of Project Convert? How has
Project Convert evolved over time?
4. Why is the company converting stores to BigBoxCo
Lights?
5. How do you see store employees implementing
Project Convert? What role do store managers play?
What is working and what is not working at the store
implementation level? (probe: specific behaviors).
6. Can you tell me about the communications process
between Headquarters and the Field? How does it
work?
7. What have been your biggest communications obstacles in implementing Project Convert?
8. How would you describe Project Convert to a new
employee?
9. What differences are there between a MallCo and
BigBoxCo employee?
Survey Questions for Employees
1. What are your feelings about your store converting to
a BigBoxCo Light? (nonconverting stores: What are
your feelings about BigBoxCo Light conversions?)
What are the pros and cons of converting to a BigBoxCo Light?
2. What are the reasons why some stores are converting
to BigBoxCo Light stores?
3. What types of changes are involved in a store converting to a BigBoxCo Light?
4. How will this conversion at this store affect your job
and store? (nonconverting stores: How does the conversion of some stores to BigBoxCo Light affect your
job and store?)

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APPENDIX B
Employee Surveys and Interviewsa
Interviews

Surveys

Interview
Number

Position

Status

Store manager

Store manager

Survey
Number

Position

Status

Survey
Number

Status

Survey
Number

Position

512

Asst. store manager

12014

Retail clerk

31297

Store manager

513

Store manager

12017

PT retail clerk

31298

Asst. store manager

Retail clerk

514

Missing

12057

Retail clerk

31311

Asst. store manager

10

Store manager

515

Retail clerk

12059

Retail clerk

31337

Asst. store manager

11

Asst. store
manager

516

PT retail clerk

12060

PT retail clerk

31338

Asst. store manager

13

Store manager

518

PT retail clerk

12062

PT retail clerk

31339

Store manager

14

Store manager

524

PT retail clerk

12081

PT retail clerk

31341

Store manager

15

Retail clerk

525

PT retail clerk

12117

Retail clerk

31342

Asst. store manager

19

Retail clerk

526

PT retail clerk

12125

PT retail clerk

31345

Store manager

20

Store manager

528

PT retail clerk

12129

PT retail clerk

31372

Store manager

26

Store manager

529

PT retail clerk

12130

Retail clerk

31389

Store manager

27

Asst. store
manager

530

Retail clerk

12131

Retail clerk

31390

Asst. store manager

28

Store manager

531

Retail clerk

12132

Retail clerk

31413

Store manager

29

Asst. store
manager

11001

Retail clerk

12133

PT retail clerk

31417

Store manager

11002

Store manager

12134

Missing

31418

Asst. store manager

11003

PT retail clerk

12135

Retail clerk

31425

Store manager

11008

Asst. store manager

12154

PT retail clerk

31430

Asst. store manager

11038

Retail clerk

12155

PT retail clerk

31431

Asst. store manager

11061

Missing

12159

Retail clerk

31454

Asst. store manager

11062

PT retail clerk

12160

Retail clerk

180113

Store manager

11065

Retail clerk

12165

Retail clerk

180114

Asst. store manager

11109

PT retail clerk

12167

PT retail clerk

180119

Store manager

11110

Retail clerk

12181

PT retail clerk

180120

Retail clerk

11112

PT retail clerk

14044

Retail clerk

180131

Asst. store manager

11113

PT retail clerk

14045

PT retail clerk

180132

Missing

Position

Status

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Academy of Management Journal

June

APPENDIX B
(Continued)
Interviews
Interview
Number

Position

Surveys

Status

Survey
Number

Position

Status

Survey
Number

Position

Status

Survey
Number

Position

Status

11114

Retail clerk

14049

Retail clerk

180133

PT retail clerk

11122

Retail clerk

14050

PT retail clerk

180134

Retail clerk

11123

Retail clerk

14051

Missing

180135

Store manager

11125

PT retail clerk

14121

PT retail clerk

180137

Asst. store manager

11132

PT retail clerk

14125

PT retail clerk

180138

Store manager

11266

PT retail clerk

14153

PT retail clerk

180156

Store manager

11325

Retail clerk

14154

Missing

180157

Asst. store manager

11329

Retail clerk

14155

Retail clerk

180158

Store manager

11438

Retail clerk

14156

PT retail clerk

180164

Asst. store manager

11458

Retail clerk

14157

PT retail clerk

180165

Store manager

11459

Asst. store manager

14812

Store manager

180188

Store manager

11460

PT retail clerk

14813

Asst. store
manager

180196

Asst. store manager

11530

Asst. store manager

14814

Asst. store
manager

180197

PT retail clerk

11541

PT retail clerk

31001

PT retail clerk

180198

Store manager

11542

Retail clerk

31003

Asst. store
manager

180303

Retail clerk

11543

Retail clerk

31017

Missing

180357

Store manager

11566

Retail clerk

31033

Store manager

190319

PT retail clerk

11567

PT retail clerk

31034

Asst. store
manager

190325

PT retail clerk

11576

PT retail clerk

31069

Store manager

190326

PT retail clerk

11617

Retail clerk

31077

Store manager

190342

Missing

11625

Retail clerk

31098

Store manager

190343

PT retail clerk

11629

Retail clerk

31101

Asst. store
manager

190344

Missing

11630

PT retail clerk

31102

Store manager

190349

PT retail clerk

11631

PT retail clerk

31105

Store manager

190352

Retail clerk

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511

APPENDIX B
(Continued)
Interviews
Interview
Number

Position

Surveys

Status

Survey
Number

Position

Status

Survey
Number

Position

Status

Survey
Number

Position

Status

11632

PT retail clerk

31106

Asst. store
manager

190361

Retail clerk

11637

Retail clerk

31126

Asst. store
manager

190362

PT retail clerk

11638

PT retail clerk

31142

Store manager

190364

Retail clerk

11639

PT retail clerk

31145

Asst. store
manager

190373

PT retail clerk

11648

PT retail clerk

31149

Store manager

190377

Retail clerk

11752

Retail clerk

31150

Asst. store
manager

190378

PT retail clerk

11753

PT retail clerk

31165

Asst. store
manager

190379

Missing

11754

Retail clerk

31200

Store manager

190380

PT retail clerk

11755

Missing

31201

Store manager

190421

PT retail clerk

11756

Retail clerk

31205

Store manager

190422

Retail clerk

11769

PT retail clerk

31209

Asst. store
manager

190423

PT retail clerk

11770

PT retail clerk

31210

Store manager

190424

Retail clerk

11806

PT retail clerk

31225

Store manager

190425

Missing

11807

Retail clerk

31229

Store manager

190445

PT retail clerk

11860

PT retail clerk

31230

Asst. store
manager

190446

Retail clerk

11861

PT retail clerk

31233

Store manager

190447

Retail clerk

11862

Retail clerk

31234

Asst. store
manager

190655

Missing

11913

PT retail clerk

31241

Store manager

a31200

Asst. store manager

11985

Missing

31273

Store manager

cm200006

Store manager

11988

Retail clerk

31278

Store manager

missing

PT retail clerk

11989

Retail clerk

31280

Asst. store
manager

missing

Asst. store manager

a
Y in the Status column indicates a store announced as converting to a BigBoxCo Light. N indicates a store not announced as
converting. Asst. is assistant. PT is part-time.

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Academy of Management Journal

Scott Sonenshein (scotts@rice.edu) is an assistant professor of management at the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School
of Business, Rice University. He received his Ph.D. in
management and organizations from the University of

June

Michigan. His research focuses on sensemaking and narrative approaches to strategic change, social change, and
business ethics.

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